A row has erupted between two senior Irish Catholic church leaders over the treatment of those who support the new abortion legislation.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin have clashed as the abortion debate intensifies. Eamon Martin is newly appointed and will be Ireland’s top clergyman when he takes over from Cardinal Sean Brady in a  year.

The Irish Independent reports that their sharp disagreement is the first sign of division among senior clerics.

The Dublin Archbishop  spoke after Archbishop Eamon Martin warned that politicians who knowingly introduced legislation ‘aiding and abetting abortion’ should not approach a priest looking for communion.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said that legislators who supported abortion were excommunicating themselves.

He said: “You cannot regard yourself as a person of faith and support abortion.

“If a legislator comes to me and says, ‘Can I be a faithful Catholic and support abortion?’ I would say no. Your communion is ruptured if you support abortion.

“You are excommunicating yourself. Any legislator who clearly and publicly states this should not approach looking for communion.”

In response Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the paper he does not want to see the sacrament of communion being used ‘for publicity reasons’ by anybody in the debate surrounding abortion.

Martin told the paper that he pointedly failed to back his hardline stance.

He said: “Communion should not become a place of debate and contrast and be used for publicity reasons by anybody. The term excommunication “may have been used in a rather large way there.

“Excommunication is a very specific measure under Canon Law. There is a danger that it would be looked at as a life sentence by some people and that is not what it does.”

The paper says the line taken by Archbishop Martin appears to be in keeping with the Pope’s own decision not to give communion in public, except on rare occasions, apparently for fear that it could be politicised.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin also urged politicians to examine their own faith as they make up their minds on the issue.

He added: “The question of a time limit on late abortions should be seriously looked at.

“We believe that current medical practice will be to try always to defend the mother and the child. We have to make sure that continues.

“We have this tradition in Ireland where there are very low levels of maternal mortality, very low levels of mortality of children at birth. That’s due to the fact that there really is a real pro-life ethos in the tradition of obstetrics in Ireland.”