Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said if re-elected it would be his intention to institute a citizens’ assembly or convention to debate the issue of abortion within six months of re-election.

He was speaking in London, where he was attending a meeting of the British Irish Council.

Mr Kenny said there was no difficulty between himself and the Deputy Leader of the Fine Gael, James Reilly, despite newspaper reports the two had clashed on the issue.

The Taoiseach said that any discussion of abortion has to be a thorough, empathetic and comprehensive process, and that it is the right of every person to have their view on this.

He said it was an issue which has divided Irish society for over 30 years.

On Wednesday night, Mr Kenny said if re-elected Taoiseach he would establish a commission to look at the issue, and if it recommended change involving legislation he would allow a free vote in Fine Gael.

The party lost five TDs and three senators, including then minister Lucinda Creighton, in 2013 when they defied the party whip to vote against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which allows abortion in limited circumstances.

A spokesman for Fianna Fáil yesterday confirmed that the party's TDs and Senators would be allowed to vote with their consciences on the repeal of the eighth amendment. 

The measure gives equal protection to the life of the mother and her unborn child and is seen as preventing abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, where the foetus has no chance of survival

The Fianna Fáil position is that the party will not campaign for the repeal of the amendment, but party leader Micheál Martin has said if a proposal were brought forward his Oireachtas members could vote whatever way they liked.

Labour has already promised to campaign for the repeal of the amendment, while the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis earlier this year endorsed a policy seeking to have the measure removed from the Constitution.