Kenny denies committee is designed to tighten abortion laws
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has denied that a committee which is examining the ban on abortion has been designed to impose further restrictions on terminations.
The contentious issue was raised as six TDs from the Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit group wore black sweaters with the Repeal slogan in the first Dail session of the new term.
Socialist Party member Ruth Coppinger accused the Taoiseach of continually avoiding the subject and said she had concerns that the Citizens' Assemby had been pre-determined.
"We can win a repeal of the eighth amendment without any further restriction, which is what I fear has been cooked up to be put into the constitution in terms of restrictive legislation or an amendment to the eighth amendment," she said.
The Citizens' Assembly, chaired by Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy, meets on October 15 in the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Dublin, with all hearings being streamed online.
The other 99 members were chosen at random and their views on abortion were not known in advance.
The assembly will hold a number of public hearings on the issue of abortion and is expected to hear from experts and interested groups before the judge files a report to the Oireachtas next year.
The Taoiseach insisted: "I want to assure you that there's nothing being cooked up here.
"This is a very straightforward democratic exercise in selection of 99 citizens to give their view.
"And their view may well be divided, may well be divisive, I don't know, but I look forward to the engagement and the contributions that they may make."
A large protest was held in Dublin last Saturday in favour of a repeal of the eighth amendment to the constitution, which bans abortion by recognising the right to life of the unborn as equal to the right to life of the mother.
Estimated numbers marching ranged from 20,000 to 30,000.
Ms Coppinger said the supporters were predominantly young people who want an end to the policing of women's bodies.
"There's nothing normal about this. There's nothing normal about putting anything about abortion or putting anything about women's health in the constitution," she said.
"There's only one other country that I'm aware of that does that and that's Chile which was done under a murderous military dictator called General Pinochet."
Ms Coppinger also claimed that 165,000 women had to travel out of Ireland for an abortion during the Taoiseach's 40-year Dail career.
"I'm asking you in what could be one of your final acts as Taoiseach, I'm asking you to break a pattern that we've seen over four decades in the Dail of you being on the more backward, conservative side," she said.
Ms Coppinger said the church and state should stay out of personal decisions.
A pregnancy can be terminated under the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act if there is a risk to a woman's life, including from suicide.
The procedure can involve a medical or surgical termination or an early delivery by induction or Caesarean section to deliver the baby.
Figures from the Health Service Executive showed 26 terminations were carried out under the legislation in 2014 and the same number again in 2015.
In both years, 14 arose from a risk to the life of the mother from physical illness, three in relation to suicide and nine following emergencies arising from physical illness.