Kenny: Pope's visit will not clash with any referendum on abortion in 2018
Pope Francis's visit to Ireland will not be in the middle of a divisive abortion referendum, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.
Mr Kenny has moved to try to dispel speculation that the timing of the Pontiff's trip could coincide with a vote on repealing the Eighth Amendment.
The Pope is due in Dublin between August 22 and 26, 2018 - but the Taoiseach said no government would hold any referendum in the month of August.
The Citizens' Assembly has until next summer to complete its work, which will then be the subject of review by a Dáil committee before the Government decides if a referendum will take place.
The earliest a vote is likely to happen is the first half of 2018 but many observers believe the second half is a more realistic timeframe.
"We'll wait until the Citizens' Assembly comes back with its recommendations or whichever proposal it wishes to make, and that will go before an Oireachtas committee to see what will arise from the Dáil if a vote is warranted on what that might be on or what that might be about," Mr Kenny said.
Speaking at the Irish Embassy to the Holy See shortly after his bilateral meeting with Pope Francis, Mr Kenny said: "In a general sense obviously you would not hold any referendum in the month of August in Ireland.
"That would apply even if that was to be a possibility.
"For August 2018, when the Pope does come, preparations will be in train.
"It's only 90 weeks ahead. I hope that will be truly an outstanding success."
The issue of the Pope's visit and a potential referendum was raised by Independent Minister Shane Ross, who said the two events should not coincide.
He said there is a risk of Pope Francis being drawn into the debate.
"I simply think that maybe there are better times for him to come than during the middle of a controversial political matter that he might get involved in," Mr Ross said, adding that the news of the visit is "wonderful".
However, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar disagreed with his Cabinet colleague, telling reporters the two issues are not connected.
"I think it's very welcome not just for people of the Catholic faith, but the public in general to have a papal visit to Ireland," Mr Varadkar said.
"When it comes to making any decision on a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, that's a totally separate issue and should not affect the timing in any way.
"I think people will be able to have a debate on that issue separate to a visit from someone from overseas."
During his Vatican audience yesterday, the Taoiseach also met with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who described the result of Ireland's marriage referendum as a "defeat for humanity".
Cardinal Parolin, who is the Vatican's equivalent of a prime minister, made international headlines when he led the Holy See's reaction to the Irish vote in 2015.
At the time he said: "This result left me feeling very sad but as the Archbishop of Dublin (Diarmuid Martin) pointed out, the Church will have to take this reality on board in the sense of a renewed and strengthened evangelisation.
"I believe that we are talking here not just about a defeat for Christian principles but also about a defeat for humanity."
Mr Kenny told reporters that the issue of same-sex marriage wasn't raised at their meeting but the Cardinal "did refer to his comment afterwards".
"I said you are perfectly entitled to make your comment.
"Obviously the people voted in a referendum which was the first in the world where it came through a citizens' convention and so many people travelled back to Ireland to actually register and vote," said Mr Kenny.
"I think that's a signal around the world - about the nature of population now, the way they feel about it, the happiness that surrounded that decision and the fact that it allowed so many people who lived in limbo or shadows to now play their full part in society," the Taoiseach said.
He added Cardinal Parolin understood his position "clearly and accepts that utterly".
Meanwhile, Pope Francis was encouraged to add a stop north of the Border to his Irish itinerary in order to complete John Paul II's unfinished 1979 journey.
The Taoiseach told the Pontiff of the circumstances which prevented Pope John Paul II from travelling to Northern Ireland.
"I said to him that John Paul couldn't go because of the Troubles at the time.
"He did pray for peace on his knees at that time and ask the men of violence to give up their ways," the Taoiseach said.
In response, the Pontiff said his schedule will be worked out by the Vatican and the Irish bishops who invited him to Dublin.
Mr Kenny promised the Pope he would be "very welcome".
He added that whatever extra arrangements were needed to facilitate a visit North would be put in place.