The Government last night dismissed claims by the country's Catholic bishops that teachers who uphold Catholic teaching could face lawsuits, should the same-sex marriage referendum pass.
Mass-goers in dioceses across the country yesterday heard bishops warn of possible lawsuits against those who uphold Catholic teaching if the referendum passes.
Five bishops and two archbishops in Dublin, Cashel and Emly, Galway, Killala, Ossory, Ferns and Elphin, issued calls for a No vote with less than a week to go to polling day and urged the Catholic faithful to use their vote to make their voices heard.
In Galway, Bishop Martin Drennan warned: "These are critical times for marriage in our society."
In his pastoral statement read out at Masses yesterday, he said there would be "serious implications" if the amendment is passed.
"It will become increasingly difficult to speak or teach in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman. There could be lawsuits against individuals and groups who do not share this vision."
He also asked: "What will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage or about homosexual acts?"
His concern was echoed by Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin who said that "in the absence of any conscience clause" he would be concerned about what teachers "might be expected to teach our children".
But last night, the Government parties and the Yes Campaign denied those claims.
Communications Minister Alex White strongly rejected the bishops' claims, saying there is "no basis" for them.
"There is absolutely no basis whatsoever for any suggestion that the Church, the Catholic Church or any church would be constricted or constrained in any way," he said.
He said it is within their right to teach the principles of their religion and to do that in schools.
Mr White said: "A specific provision in the legislation we're going to bring in if and when the referendum is passed would mean a Catholic priest, for example, will not be required to solemnise for example, the marriage of a same-sex couple.
"It is specifically provided for in the legislation we intend to introduce. So it is quite wrong for anyone to say that the Church will be in any way restricted.
"And, you know, the Church is an important institution in Irish society - everybody accepts that, they have a right to have their views, they also have a right to do what they've always done in schools and through Catholic teaching and everything else - none of that will change," he added.
Parishes in the archdiocese of Dublin were told by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin that some on the 'Yes' side were saying that a change will not affect those who do not agree with it and will not affect marriages which take place in Church.
"No politician can promise that, since it will be exclusively up to the courts to interpret the changed Constitution," he warned.
He also recognised that "the severity with which the Irish Church treated gay and lesbian people in the past - and in some cases still today - makes it difficult for some to understand the Church's position".
Dr Martin said the proposed amendment was not simply about extending marriage rights or a debate about religious views.
He said it was a "fundamental change in the philosophy which underpins cohesion in society and thus affects and concerns every citizen".