The Cabinet is holding a special meeting at which ministers are expected formally to agree to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

The Government has made a commitment to hold a referendum in early summer and a clearer commitment is expected to be given on the timeline.

Minister for Health Simon Harris will also outline his approach to the referendum, while the Taoiseach is expected to set out his position in detail after the meeting.

Leo Varadkar said at the weekend that he would be campaigning for more liberal abortion laws.

Last December, the all-party Oireachtas committee recommended that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed.

It also proposed that terminations without restriction should be allowed for up to 12 weeks.

The amendment provides for the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.

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Minister Harris has been working with officials in his department and the Attorney General on the wording of the referendum, which is due to be formally published at the beginning of March.

Mr Harris will recommend to his Cabinet colleagues the approach that the Government should take.

There are two options. The first is to ask voters whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

However, on legal advice, it is expected that the minister will suggest to colleagues that along with repealing the amendment, new wording should be also added to the Constitution that explicitly states that the Oireachtas should legislate on such issues.

This afternoon, Mr Harris said that whatever the Cabinet agrees in relation to the referendum bill, the elective will be asked to repeal the Eighth Amendment in full.

He said if ministers agree to add wording into the constitution to explicitly state that the Oireachtas should legislate in this area, it would be done so on legal advice.

The Attorney General is to brief the Cabinet on this issue at the meeting.

The minister will also outline his approach to the draft legislation that the Government plans to introduce if the referendum is passed.

Mr Harris previously told ministers that he was preparing this draft legislation in line with the Oireachtas committee's proposal to allow terminations up to 12 weeks.

The Minister for Housing has said he hopes the forthcoming debate on the Eighth Amendment will be carried out in a robust and respectful fashion.

Speaking in Limerick, Eoghan Murphy said the issue was sensitive and that all those involved in weighing up the arguments had to be mindful that there were different views from all sides.

He said he was personally in favour of repealing the amendment and allowing the Oireachtas to legislate in line with the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee.

The minister said May or June was the preferred time to hold the ballot and that the issue of timing would be discussed by Cabinet this evening.

Mr Harris said that it was his preference that the referendum should be held in May.

However, the Cabinet may give greater clarity on the timeline of the referendum but the Mr Harris said his preference was for it to be held in May.

He said Mr Murphy would formally announce the date in due time.