TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore says there will be a referendum on gay marriage next year, marking the first definite coalition comments on when the potentially divisive poll will take place.
The Government's own constitutional think-thank voted overwhelmingly in favour of gay marriage earlier this year, pushing it up the political agenda.
The Constitutional Convention is due to send its report on gay marriage to the Government soon, and ministers have four months to decide their response to it.
The Coalition is likely to agree to a referendum on gay marriage, and Mr Gilmore now says it will happen next year.
While some in Fine Gael would prefer to push the referendum back further, the Tanaiste told an event organised by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) it will "realistically" happen in 2014.
"I suppose realistically we're probably looking at next year sometime," Mr Gilmore told the event in Google's European headquarters on Dublin's Barrow Street.
The Tanaiste was asked about a referendum during a question-and-answer session at the GLEN event.
Mr Gilmore replied: "Well the commitment we have given is that once the Constitutional Convention presents its report in respect of the part of the Constitutional Convention dealing with same-sex marriage, that report is going to be tabled I think this month, formally tabled.
"There is then a four-month period for the Government to consider the report of the Constitutional Convention.
"We have committed that we will make a decision within that four-month period on what would be our response to the Constitutional Convention. Then in the case of a referendum on same-sex marriage, it would then be an issue of when that takes place after that.
"I suppose realistically we're probably looking at next year sometime."
Coalition sources said the referendum was likely to be held alongside votes on other issues recommended by the Constitutional Convention, such as decreasing the voting age to 16.
One source joked that the Government might need "traffic lights" for the amount of referendums coming. Others said issues surrounding same-sex adoption, surrogacy and other areas had to be dealt with before a gay marriage referendum.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter is due to publish legislation dealing with those areas by the end of the year.
Although Taoiseach Enda Kenny has so far declined to give his own view on gay marriage, he is not expected to block a referendum. Mr Kenny's spokesman says he will make a statement in "due course".
Mr Kenny had indicated the gay marriage poll would take place next year but Mr Gilmore is the first cabinet member to put a timeframe on it.