Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy will discuss its concerns over proposed abortion legislation directly with the government next week.

The meeting between the Church leaders and the politicians they have openly criticised in the recent debate will coincide with an appearance by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference before a parliamentary health committee.

The Irish Times reports that the bilateral meeting between the church and Government Ministers is part of an ongoing ‘structured dialogue’ process.

The paper says the Government has been taken aback by the language used by bishops in the abortion debate.

The four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland stated the proposed law ‘would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children.'

Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore said: “It would be the first step on the road to a culture of death.”

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference will appear before the parliamentary health committee on the final day of three days of public hearings involving legal and medical personnel, religious representatives and groups advocating anti-abortion and pro-choice positions.

The committee is to gather information to help the Government in the drafting of the Heads of Bill following the decision to legislate for the restricted introduction of abortion based on the finding of the Supreme Court in the X case in 1992.

Any legislation will be supported by ministerial regulations according to the paper.

Documents released to the Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act say a bilateral meeting between the Catholic Church and the Government is proposed as part of the ‘structured dialogue’ between the State and churches, faith communities and non-religious groups.

The agenda is expected to include abortion, as well as school patronage and the divesting of Catholic-run schools to other patron bodies.

A Government spokesman told the Irish Times: “It’s expected the issue of the Government’s plan to proceed in relation to dealing with the A, B and C judgment will be discussed.”