Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is still confident the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment will go ahead by the end of May.

He said he wanted all in Leinster House to be involved in the debate but hoped some would not delay the discussion.

Minister for Health Simon Harris introduced the bill to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment today in the Dáil.

Yesterday, the Cabinet unanimously approved the wording of the question to be put to the voters.

Voters will be asked whether or not the Eighth Amendment should be repealed and replaced with new wording to be added to the Constitution: "That provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy."

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said he is satisfied the Eighth Amendment referendum can go ahead before the end of May, as it is a policy area that has been extensively debated through both the Oireachtas and at the Citizens' Assembly.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said that he will be supporting the referendum and the bill to "recognise the ability of women and mothers to make decisions on this most private of matters in the best way possible".

Mr Donohoe said: "We need a legal framework to reflect the anguish, the sensitivity involved and allow a balance in role of the State and role of mothers and women."

He said there will be regulations in place and Minister for Health Simon Harris will be bringing forward a policy paper to recognise best practice in this area.

Mr Donohoe said it was a matter for individual Fine Gael politicians as a matter of conscience to proceed as they see fit.

Elsewhere, Sinn Féin’s ard comhairle will meet on Monday 19 March to discuss whether it will hold a special ard fheis before the referendum to clarify its position on allowing terminations unrestricted up to 12 weeks.

Earlier, party leader Mary Lou McDonald had said that she would put the 12-week proposal to an ard fhéis in advance of legislation coming before the house if the referendum was passed.

However, Dublin Mid-West TD Eoin Ó Broin had told RTÉ News that it was his preference that the party would hold an ard fhéis before the referendum to discuss the proposal.


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Last month, Ms McDonald told RTÉ that Sinn Féin TDs would not be allowed to vote in line with their conscience. She said that while it is a matter of private conscience, it is also a matter of public policy.

Today, she told the Dáíl that a repeal of the Eighth Amendment was an "absolute necessity".

The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference has issued a statement on the referendum saying "the deletion or amendment of Article 40.3.3, would serve no purpose other than to withdraw the right to life from some categories of unborn children.

"To do so would radically change the principle, for all unborn children and indeed for all of us, that the right to life is a fundamental human right."

In a revised pastoral message issued during their spring general meeting, the bishops said "the Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother.

"By virtue of their common humanity a mother and her unborn baby have an equal right to life."

The Pro Life Campaign has said that the Government's proposals for abortion are "more extreme than the laws in England".

Caroline Simons said this is not overstating the reality, as she reacting to the bill presented in the Dáil.

She said the proposals will allow for abortion up to birth "on a ground of health that is undefined", while in Britain "there are time limits on the so-called health ground".

She said that as well as leading to more abortions, it could see women from England travelling here, in cases where they have not been given an abortion there.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has welcomed the bill on a referendum on the Eighth Amendment saying today was an "historic milestone towards women’s equality in Ireland".