Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, is at the center of an abortion row – with opponents claiming he is trying to muzzle debate and the Catholic Church.

Rabbitte has been heavily criticized by the Pro Life movement and the opposition party Fianna Fail as the abortion issue threatens to split the coalition government.

The Labour Party Minister is also at loggerheads with senior government partners Fine Gael after effectively telling the Catholic Church to keep their noses out of the debate.

Rabbitte had told state broadcaster RTÉ: “I don’t have any objection to any of the churches stating its position and making it clear, but I think it would be a retrogressive step if we were to go back to the days of the Catholic Church dictating to elected public representatives how they should address an issue.”

Now Fianna Fail has accused Rabbitte of ‘poisoning the atmosphere over the abortion issue, showing disrespect for the Catholic Church and trying to muzzle debate’.

The Irish Times reports that the Pro Life Campaign has also criticized Rabbitte and claimed he was trying to suppress discussion and ‘intimidate’ the church from being involved in the public arena.

Fianna Fáil deputy Billy Kelleher has even accused Rabbitte of being disrespectful towards Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady.

Kelleher said: “One thing that all sensible observers agree on is the need for restrained and respectful engagement with the issues.

“Unfortunately, Pat Rabbitte’s contribution on Sunday’s RTÉ This Week programme, when he said the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland should not be involved in any political debate on the issue, was neither restrained nor respectful.

“Mr Rabbitte succeeded in poisoning the atmosphere for engagement and is creating conflict before the expert report on abortion has even been finalized.”

Pat Rabbittee, Labour Party MinisterGoogle Images