The Fine Gael leader made the comment after a damning UN report hit out at Ireland’s rules on the issue.
Speaking at a media briefing 24 hours after the independent UN report criticised Ireland for its role in a case involving a woman forced to travel to Britain after learning her foetus could not survive outside the womb, Mr Kenny said he was acutely aware of the sensitive issues involved.
However, despite growing calls for an immediate referendum on the matter, he repeated the Government view that any potential changes must first be discussed by a non-political and diverse citizens’ assembly.
Under the programme for government, this group is due to be set up in the autumn to examine a number of unrelated issues.
“This [abortion legislation and fatal foetal abnormality cases] is something that is obviously so traumatic and personal for so many people and families. It’s part of an issue that has divided Irish society for a very long time,” said Mr Kenny.
“I myself have struggled with this.
“I don’t want to interfere with [the citizens’ assembly]. But I do think that it is important [that a review of abortion laws] be proceeded with in a proper and sensitive fashion, given the many letters I have received from women in particular and in some cases families who have had to go through the trauma of having to be faced with that challenge.”
Mr Kenny said that once the citizens’ assembly examines the issue, its recommendations will be voted on by TDs during a ‘free’ vote in the Dáil, with individual politicians not subjected to party whips.
The matter could lead to a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, but questions remain about what may replace it.
Speaking at a separate event yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe repeated the view that a citizens’ assembly is the most appropriate way to examine reforms.
Mr Harris denied the plan is about delaying the need to make a decision, insisting “it is absolutely not a stalling tactic, quite the opposite”. He said there needs to be “a new sense of priority and urgency attached to this issue”.
“While it is not for me to dictate the work plan of the citizens’ assembly, I think it would be very important for this issue to be amongst the very first it would consider,” he said.
Mr Harris, like Mr Donohoe, said the current legal position on abortions in fatal foetal abnormality cases is “unacceptable”. He said there is “absolutely no doubt the views expressed very clearly by the UN now need to form part of the work of the assembly”.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the idea of no actions taking place until the assemble is established is “absolutely a stalling tactic” and must be tackled.
“The State is indicted for its position in respect of abortion. It is absolutely a stalling tactic. The issue of legislation for the X case, the history of dealing with this issue, is a history of stalling and it has to stop,” she said.