Minister of State Lucinda Creighton has called for a "rational and respectful" debate on the abortion issue.

Ms Creighton described some of the emails and letters she has received recently from groups in favour of and against abortion as vile, disgusting and horrific.

She believes she is not unique in receiving such communications.

The Government is preparing new legislation on abortion giving effect to the X Case judgment.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that abortion was permitted when a woman's life was at risk, but successive governments have avoided legislating for it.

The death in October of Savita Halappanavar, who died following a miscarriage at University Hospital Galway, has intensified the debate around abortion.

Her death also prompted large protests by groups on both sides of the debate.

Ms Creighton said the issue is traditionally very emotive in Ireland, adding that she is prepared for what is going to be a particularly sensitive debate in the first part of the year.