The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal next month that deals with the meaning of the word "unborn" in the Constitution.

The court agreed to the hearing after an application from the State for an "extremely early" hearing date as there may be a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in late May.

The State has appealed against a finding of the High Court that the word means a "child" with constitutional protection, which goes beyond the Eighth Amendment.

Senior Counsel Mary O'Toole said the State was very anxious the appeal was heard and decided as soon as possible.

Chief Justice Mr Justice Frank Clarke said the appeal raised issues concerning the Eighth Amendment and related matters.

He said the courts, as was the case with the State, would not be anxious to have the appeal heard in the middle of a referendum campaign.

He said the court would hear the appeal around 22 and 23 February and would set the exact date once the necessary legal documents had been provided.

The case is likely to take two or three days.

The High Court decision related to an immigration case, but the Supreme Court noted the findings had wider significance.

In the High Court case, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys found that the "unborn" is an "unborn child" with rights, extending beyond the protection provided to the unborn in the Eighth Amendment.

The case involved a Nigerian man, his female partner and their now two-year-old child who was not born when the case began.

The man was trying to prevent his deportation. Mr Justice Humphreys said the unborn child, including of a parent facing deportation, enjoyed "significant rights" under the Constitution, going well beyond the right to life alone.

He found many of these rights were actually effective and must be considered.

The State has expressed concern that if the High Court findings are upheld, they will have serious repercussions for the duties of the State.