Minister for Health Simon Harris has said it is "prudent" that his department now starts the preparatory work for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, adding it is his preference that the referendum take place by the summer of next year.

The Eighth Amendment says "the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, so far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right".

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Harris said it is too early to be definite in relation to a date.

He said he is conscious of the work that needs to be done and conscious that the Oireachtas has not yet made a decision to hold a referendum.

He said he is personally supportive of removing the amendment.

He said the report from the Citizens' Assembly on the issue deserves full consideration.

Mr Harris said he expects public hearings from the special Oireachtas committee that has been set up to consider the issue will begin early in the autumn.

He said "my own personal view, is that I would like to see a referendum take place in 2018 and I'd like to see it take place around the summer of 2018. But in relation to when that will actually happen and the practicalities of that, it is a matter for the special Oireachtas committee's work".