CATHOLIC bishops have continued to ramp up the pressure on the Government over planned abortion legislation – with two more senior clerics joining the row.
Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly said the decision was the "first step on the road to a culture of death", while Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley has accused the Government of having "no democratic mandate" to introduce new laws.
His comments came after the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference confirmed a campaign of opposition to the proposed legislation would get under way early in the new year.
Bishops in each of the country's 26 dioceses would be free to speak about the issue during Christmas celebrations, a spokesman said, adding that a concerted campaign would get under way from next month.
"At a local level, bishops will continue to engage," he said.
"A pastoral message will be issued in the new year to the people. It will target all parishes in the country, and will be given to parishioners and there will also be the www.chooselife.ie website.
"It's at a very early stage but a number of other initiatives will also be unveiled."
He added that it was a matter for individual bishops to decide if they wished to raise the issue.
His comments came after Dr Buckley claimed the the Government had "no democratic" mandate to introduce any legislation.
He said that those supporting the measure were "blurring the distinction between medical intervention and abortion", adding abortion was the most "serious threat to human rights".
"In 1983 the Irish people voted to amend the Constitution to provide explicit protection for the unborn," he said. "Even the European Court of Human Rights acknowledges that there is no reason to believe that the Irish people have significantly changed their approach since then.
"It is ironic that the most recent referendum, endorsed by all parties, referred to the rights of children. It now seems that the unborn child can be deprived of the most fundamental right of all, the right to life."
The Coalition is introducing legislation before next summer to deal with abortion, with suicide to be included as a ground for termination.
Dr O'Reilly called for TDs to have a free vote on the issue, saying the legislation would open the door to the most liberal kind of abortion.
"This would be a radical change in the culture of life that we have had here in this country – and let's not make any mistake about it – it would be an irrevocable change, there would not be any going back," he told RTE.