The Taoiseach has asked that the Dáil meets this Friday to debate the legislation to allow for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to take place in May.

Leo Varadkar said a Friday sitting was necessary to avoid delays to the holding of the referendum.

The Taoiseach made the request after concerns that the referendum could be delayed were raised by Solidarity/PBP TD Bríd Smith.

The Government is awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court tomorrow that is examining the rights of the unborn in the Constitution.

The Cabinet will then meet on Thursday to finalise the referendum bill.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the Rural Independent Group would object to a Friday Dáil sitting.

He said the Government was putting the cart before the horse on this issue.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland have offered their views on the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

The heads of the country’s 26 dioceses said women made pregnant by rape and expectant mothers whose unborn children are terminally ill can and must be loved and cherished along with the children in their wombs.

However, they reiterated their firm opposition to abortion in these or any other circumstances.

Their statement comes on the second day of the spring meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference.

They said: "For us as a society to now declare that any category of human being should have that right taken from them would be a shocking step.

"It effectively says that unborn children do not exist or, if they do, they do not count. That is a manifest injustice."

The Cabinet gave formal approval to the holding of a referendum on the Eighth Amendment earlier this year.

It followed a report by the all-party Oireachtas committee that recommended that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed.

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

The bishops said that Article 40.3.3 was a declaration of equality and respect for human life as they invited "people of faith to pray earnestly that Ireland will choose life".

"Making abortion freely available desensitises people to the value of every human life," they said. "The scientific evidence about the beginning of human life has never been clearer.

"It is, therefore, a great irony that we in Ireland are for the first time in our history losing our clarity about the right to life of the unborn.

"A compassionate society will do all in its power to support and love the mother and baby, and encourage responsible support from fathers."

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Additional reporting by Joe Little