Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has defended his apparent U-turn on abortion, saying the testimony of "harrowing trauma" experienced by some Irish women changed his mind.
Mr Martin was in Belfast yesterday to attend the launch of a new book about the former SDLP leader John Hume's time in America. Also in attendance at the event was the SDLP's former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon.
Speaking after the launch on the BBC's The View programme, Mr Martin discussed his change of heart on abortion and on Brexit negotiations.
Last week, he faced a backlash from within his own party after he called for a liberalisation of abortion laws.
His change in stance goes against a policy agreed at the Fianna Fail ard fheis in October, with a number of TDs now strongly voicing their opposition to Mr Martin.
He defended his decision as personal rather than party political.
"About two years ago I met mothers who had to go to England for terminations of their babies following a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. They came into the Dail and spoke to us about the harrowing trauma," he said.
"For me I resolved that was something I could not countenance women having to go through if the opportunity came my way as a legislator."
On the issue of pregnancies involving rape and incest he said: "I've great difficulty in forcing a woman through to full pregnancy as a legislator."
Asked if he feared a 'lynching' from his own party members, he insisted the debate had been calm despite sharply divided opinions.
Mr Martin has also said he would support unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.
"What you now have in the Republic is unregulated, unrestricted access to abortion via the abortion pill with no medical supervision. Women are now coming to see doctors with complications after accesssing abortion pills online."
He said this meant that the existing constitution already meant the Republic was not an abortion-free country.
On Brexit negotiations, he said he welcomed commitments so far not to have a hard Irish border, but had some concerns about the "megaphone diplomacy" between the British and Irish governments.
As Stormont talks resumed this week, with Irish government involvement, he said Brexit demanded the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive.
"I get a sense they may agree to go back - I can think of no greater threat to Northern Ireland businesses, jobs and farming than Brexit."
Mr Martin added he "didn't want to contemplate" the return of direct rule to Northern Ireland.
"It would represent a failure by the main parties, particularly before the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
"I listened to Seamus Mallon earlier tonight at the Titanic on the launch of a book on John Hume's reach out to America. He spoke about that great nugget the Good Friday Agreement gave us which was peace.
"We shouldn't take any of that for granted and I think there's an obligation on the parties to put their differences aside. I actually don't think there's a whole lot between them."
Mr Martin said in the event of direct rule, he supported Dublin having a "consultative role".
"It's a road that neither government wants to go down."
Discussing Fianna Fail's ambitions in Northern Ireland, he said running candidates in the 2019 council elections remained a target.
He declined to confirm rumours that he wished to pursue a merger between his party and the SDLP.
"We're very close with the SDLP and have been for many years, many of our members have canvassed for each other for the last 30 years. The SDLP is a party with its own identity and I'm not going to say anything tonight that would be insensitive to that."