The Irish Prime Minister has made clear that the recent intervention by Pope Benedict in the Irish abortion debate was not helpful.

Pope Benedict XVI stated at the weekend his "dismay" at proposals to bring in legal abortion in Ireland.

Enda Kenny, however, stated Ireland was not allowing abortion on demand.

"What we need is understanding, respect and dignity about the hearings that are now going to take place.

"What the Government is about here is setting in place a framework and a process so that legal certainty will apply to medical personnel who have to make decisions where the life of a mother is threatened, and also to introduce regulations that restrict a move towards abortion on demand, particularly in the case where suicide is involved," he said.

"We're not in a position to be able to tell medical personnel what it is that they should do but it is our duty to set in place a framework which gives legal certainty to situations that arise where they have to intervene to save the life of the mother," he added.

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister has also said he disagrees with Pope Benedict’s stance on the Irish abortion issue.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said women are entitled to "more than mercy and understanding" when it comes to medical abortions.

On Monday Pope Benedict expressed his dismay at the Irish Government’s plans to introduce new abortion legislation in Ireland.

Read More: Pope Benedict slams Ireland’s attempts to introduce abortion

Speaking about abortion, he said: “I must note with dismay that, in various countries, even those of Christian tradition, efforts are being made to introduce or expand legislation which decriminalizes abortion.

“Direct abortion, that is to say willed as an end or as a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.

“In affirming this, the Catholic Church is not lacking in understanding and mercy, also towards the mother involved.”

Read More: Historic move as Irish government drafts abortion legislation for 2013 vote

Gilmore said the Pope was expressing the view of the Catholic Church and that he disagrees.

"I think what the Pope was expressing was the long established and well known view of his church. With respect, I disagree with it. I think that women in Ireland are entitled to more than understanding and mercy, as he put it. I think they are entitled to legal clarity about their situation where their life is at risk.

"And the Government has already made a decision to pursue the option, which was set out in the expert group report, which is to legislate and to introduce appropriate regulations to deal with that.

"That process has started. The process of preparing that legislation has started with the hearings, which are taking place in the Oireachtas this week and different points of view will obviously be heard and they will inform the preparation of the legislation."

Meanwhile an inquest into the death of Indian national Savita Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital last October is to open on 18 January, when the preliminary hearing will begin.

RTE reports the full inquest, which will take place at Galway courthouse, is expected to last up to a week in March.  

Read More: Abortion debate continues to rage in Ireland after Savita Halappanavar’s death