Citizens' Assembly Chairperson Ms Justice Mary Laffoy has warned members that the task of making recommendations to legislators on the current legal restrictions on abortion is enormous and could overwhelm the body.

However, she urged her 99 fellow members to remain steadfast in the Assembly's commitment to fulfilling the task set for it by the Oireachtas.

Judge Laffoy made the remarks during her closing speech to the first of four weekend-long sittings devoted to considering what she called "a difficult topic which requires a comprehensive look at very complex and thorny issues".

She said she had been hugely impressed by her fellow citizens in the forum this weekend, describing them as "extremely committed to the process and...very dedicated to the work that lies before them."

The judge described the day-and-a-half of discussions as "robust, illuminating and comprehensive" saying she made a very conscious decision that the members should receive the facts about the current position, without commentary about the perceived advantages or disadvantages of the current abortion regime.

She continued: "It is essential that the members have that strong grounding, to allow them to be able to make their own judgements about material that is presented to them."

The Assembly has agreed to devote three more weekends to discussions on the issue of the Eighth Amendment between now and March.

"This is something I have been grappling with since taking up the position as Chair. The challenge to find the right balance; both in terms of presenting each side of the debate and in terms of the appropriate amount of time to spend in a voluntary civic forum like this, on what is a very difficult and emotive topic, cannot be underestimated." 

She continued: "The task we have before us over the next three weekends that the Assembly meets is enormous. It could overwhelm us, but we must remain steadfast in our commitment to fulfilling the task set for us by the Oireachtas."

Meanwhile, a statement from the Assembly said it is continuing to accept submissions on the Eighth Amendment from members of the public, representative groups and citizen organisations.

The closing date for receipt of submissions is Friday 16 December and submissions can be made online or by post to 16 Parnell Square, Dublin 1.

The statement says that to date 600 submissions have been received and that all documentation containing these and further submissions will be made available on the Assembly's website if appropriate.

The Assembly's website states that, in the case of individual submissions which include personal testimony,  the Secretariat will respect requests to withhold personal information in order  to protect that person's privacy. 

The statement adds that, in accordance with the Assembly's agreed rules and procedures, following receipt of submissions on any matter, the Assembly may choose to hear oral presentations from any representative group or individual to assist in its deliberations.

This weekend Assembly members heard presentations by medical, legal and ethical practitioners and academics on the topic of the Eighth Amendment. All presentations made to the Assembly and associated papers are available on the Assembly website.

Following each Citizens' Assembly meeting, archive footage will be available to watch on the Assembly YouTube channel.