TIMELINE: When an abortion referendum could happen

Our political correspondent Sean Defoe breaks down the details

TIMELINE: When an abortion referendum could happen

Photocall file photo

Government ministers spent more than two hours discussing abortion at their weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Here is what they were told has to happen next in order to have a referendum on the 8th amendment this year.

January: In order to have a referendum, a Referendum Bill needs to pass in the Dáil and Seanad.

That bill will outline what question would be put to people to vote on and the Cabinet is likely to agree on that before the end of the month.

It is likely to be a simple Yes/No question: 'Should article 40.3.3 be removed from the Constitution.'

However the Government is considering whether a line needs to be added to the constitution along the lines of 'The Oireachtas has the power to legislate when it comes to abortion' in order to avoid any legal uncertainty.

The bill has to pass through the Dáil and the Seanad. Both parts of the Oireachtas will debate the issue next week, but no vote will be taken yet.

February: The bill will be debated in the Oireachtas. Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy can set up a referendum commission after the referendum bill is initiated in the Dáil.

The Government has also said it will publish the general scheme of what the new abortion laws would be if the 8th amendment is repealed.

The public will not actually be voting on the law itself, just whether to repeal the 8th amendment.

But by publishing what legislation they intend to bring in the referendum can be seen as a vote by proxy on those new laws.

March/April: The Government hopes the referendum bill will pass through the Oireachtas by the end of March or early April.

They think this would give a referendum commission enough time to carry out its information campaign in the lead up to a vote.

May/June: If all this goes to plan, a polling date of May 25th or June 1st is being looked at.

May is the preference as less students will have finished college or left on J1s and other summer trip.

June 1st is also the Friday of a bank holiday weekend.

It is an ambitious schedule and could be derailed by unforeseen delays.

But there does seem to be consensus on most sides in the Dáil that the question of Ireland's abortion laws should be put to the people this year.