Bishops warn against undermining of the right to life of unborn
The country's Catholic bishops have issued a hard-hitting warning against "any weakening of the affirmation of the right to life of the unborn".
A pastoral statement, signed by four Archbishops on behalf of the hierarchy, was issued on the day the Labour Party launched its plan for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
Labour will insist on starting the process of holding an abortion referendum by the summer, if they are involved in negotiating the next Programme for Government.
Communications Minister Alex White said it is "high time" voters are given the right to choose, by way of a referendum, whether the Eighth Amendment should remain in the Constitution.
But Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the right to life is a very important issue because it is about ensuring that "the interests of all children are respected and nobody's life is considered less valuable than others".
Acknowledging that it is up to individuals who they vote for, Dr Martin warned: "You cannot pretend to be a Catholic and leave aside a very vital part of Catholic teaching".
The Catholic leadership also criticised successive governments' failure on healthcare but suggested that a "blame game" is not the answer to the crisis in the health sector.
Saying they shared the anxiety of many citizens in Ireland over the uncertain social climate, they urged voters to challenge candidates on housing, homelessness, crime, education and the refugee crisis.
These issues are "extremely important because the affect the overall life of citizens," Archbishop Martin said.
Labour wants to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the life of the mother and the unborn, and put in place legislation.
Junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin accused Fianna Fáil of trying to "shut down" debate on the issue of the Eighth Amendment.
"Fianna Fáil's position on this is archaic, out of touch, and they are reasons why we need to make sure they are not returned to government in any form," he said.
"I think the question needs to be asked of Fianna Fáil, who are presenting themselves as the republican party, as to why they want to stand over a regime of 4,000 women per year travelling to England, be their life at risk, or their health at risk, or their mental health at risk, or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Fianna Fáil are shutting down this conversation entirely," Mr Ó Ríordáin said.