Simon Harris said Ireland needs to take a 'quantum leap' forward

The Dáil has spent more than five hours debating abortion, with the vast majority of speakers calling for a repeal of the 8th amendment.

The government earlier outlined what new laws they'd like to see, including abortion without restrictions for up to 12 weeks.

After that abortions would be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, or when there's a risk to the life, health or mental health of the mother.

The Health Minister compared the current laws to those in Saudi Arabia - and said he hopes there can be a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment in May.

Simon Harris introduced the referendum bill in the Dáil earlier, and in a speech he argued there needs to take a 'quantum leap' forward on abortion.

He observed: "If the purpose of the 8th amendment was to stop abortions in Ireland, and to stop Irish women access abortions, it did not achieve that.

"All it achieved was pain and suffering.

"In this country, whether we like to hear it, denying reality has at times become a national bad habit - denying realities does not make them go away.

"Instead it just led to hurt and to harm".

Elsewhere, Deputy Mattie McGrath claimed the Citizens' Assembly on the 8th amendment was a flawed process - describing it as "a set up, a stitch up, a codology".

The Pro Life Campaign, meanwhile, says Ireland would have one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world if the Government’s abortion proposals were passed.

The group, which will be campaigning for a no vote in the expected referendum, says the rights of unborn babies will be abandoned.