Leo Varadkar says he hopes people will "revolt against" graphic imagery
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said 'really graphic and vile' posters and billboards showing unborn foetuses should be removed.
Images showing foetuses have been displayed outside maternity hospitals this week - a move which has provoked criticism from both sides of the campaign.
The Together For Yes campaign said it was "inappropriate and disrespectful, particularly to women experiencing crisis pregnancies".
A Save the 8th spokesperson said the demonstrations outside the hospitals were 'wrong and unhelpful'.
The Coombe Hospital has called on groups on both sides of the debate to stop canvassing outside the hospital, saying it can be "a source of extreme distress".
In a statement, it said: "In particular, women who have experienced, or who may be experiencing, a pregnancy loss do not need the added distress of campaigners, slogans and literature."
In the interest & wellbeing of our patients & staff, we recently engaged with campaigners and groups representing both sides of the current referendum to remove graphic & distasteful postering from the vicinity of the hospital.— The Rotunda Hospital (@RotundaHospital) May 1, 2018
The group behind the controversial images is the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (ICBR), based in Tipperary and linked to the US organisation the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.
Despite the strong backlash, a spokesperson for ICBR indicated earlier today that the group could step up their campaign.
The issue of the posters was raised in the Dáil today, prompting a response from the Taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar told deputies: "I think [the images] should be removed. I know they're upsetting to pregnant women and their partners.
"I know from my own experience that a lot of children seeing them have questions to ask... They don't know what they are, and they don't understand them... they ask their parents about it, and put their parents in a very difficult position."
He added: "I do think [the posters] are counter-productive, and that is the only think I can say about them that is any way positive. I hope they will be counter-productive, and that people will revolt against them and the attitudes of the kind of people who think that sort of advertising is any way appropriate or convincing."
Meanwhile, recent controversies such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal have prompted concerns over possible overseas involvement in the referendum campaign.
Groups such as the Transparent Referendum Initiative are working to track advertisements targetting groups of social media users amid such concerns.
On the subject of potential international influence, Leo Varadkar observed: "I am very wary of overseas involvement and overseas money being part of the campaign, on either side.
"I do have full confidence in the Referendum Commission and [Standards in Public Office Commission] to discharge their statutory functions."