THE Government is bracing itself for a potentially explosive collision with the Catholic Church over abortion laws.
The battle lines have been drawn for a fractious debate.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is attempting to diffuse tensions among his own TDs who are threatening revolt if the upcoming measures prove too liberal.
European Affairs minister Lucinda Creighton told the Herald that she will quit her ministry if prospective legislation and regulation goes "too far".
Mr Kenny has insisted that there will no regime of abortion on demand in Ireland.
Responding to a claim by a senior bishop that the proposed legislation would lead to a "culture of death", Mr Kenny said:
"Far from this being any culture of death, it is a culture of life for the protection of women and respect for the mothers."
The Taoiseach reiterated his rejection of a free vote for TDs -- meaning that any deputy who opposes the legislation will lose their party whip.
His comments came after it was confirmed that the Cabinet has opted for a package which will allow for terminations when the woman's life is under threat from suicide.
The move will bring Ireland in compliance with the 1992 court ruling on the X Case, and follows the publication of a report by an expert group.
Government TDs are braced for a major onslaught from Catholic bishops and pro-life campaigners.
The Catholic Church has confirmed that bishops in each of Ireland's 26 dioceses will be free to openly speak about abortion
"At a local level, bishops will continue to engage. A pastoral message will be issued in the new year to the people," said a spokesman.
"It's at a very early stage but a number of other initiatives will also be unveiled."
The intervention by the Church has been strongly criticised by ministers.
Communications minister Pat Rabbitte accused clerics of "dictating to legislators how to legislate".
"I'm a bit surprised by the intervention at this stage because the legislation has not been published yet, so I'm not sure how you can make that kind of strident intervention without seeing the legislation."
Junior finance minister Brian Hayes warned against using extreme language when discussing the issue.
The Taoiseach, due to meet Catholic Church hierarchy in the New Year, has privately told TDs that he fears he will become a target for abuse.
He told the parliamentary party he received a message threatening "revenge" for his staunch criticisms of the Vatican following the Cloyne Report.