Six Irish girls under the age of 18 entrusted to the State's care were assisted in traveling abroad for abortions since 1992.

The decision in each case was taken on mental health grounds, with the threat of suicide a factor on each occasion, the Irish Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald told the Irish Times this week.

In each of the cases a psychiatrist reportedly assessed the mental health needs of the minor, although in four of the cases a court hearing was convened.

'I am advised by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that six minors who were in State care were assisted in traveling abroad for abortions since 1992,' Fitzgerald said.

In each case the circumstances were complex and unique to the individual. 'In the interests of confidentiality and given the very low numbers involved the HSE is constrained from providing details of the individual cases. The HSE has confirmed that it acted within the legislation and in the best interests of the children involved in all cases.'

According to the Irish Times, in 2011 a total of 37 Irish girls under the age of 16 sought abortions in England and Wales. A total of 111 girls aged 16 or 17 also travelled for abortions.

But these figures underestimate the true numbers according to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), because not all women resident in the Republic provide their Irish addresses whilst in Britain for reasons of confidentiality.

On the issue of the figures relating to under-18s in State care, Fitzgerald was responding to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael minister Billy Timmins.

Timmins became the third member of his party this week to confirm he would not support the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill because he objected to the suicide clause.

In a parliamentary question Timmins asked how many girls in State care were 'taken to Britain or elsewhere' for an abortion 'following a court decision, following testimony from a psychiatrist for the State that she was suicidal?'

Timmins requested a figure for the years 1998 to date, but the answer related to the years from 1992.

Timmins reportedly described the response as 'worrying' and asked: 'If this legislation is about saving women’s lives, why was the treatment not provided in Ireland?'

The Irish Department of Health said the issue of consent for minors for access to medical treatment is not covered in the Bill, 'but is one which needs to be addressed separately.'