Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled that state protections for unborn babies do not extend beyond the right to life.

Sky News’ Dublin Correspondent, Darren McCaffrey, said the ruling appears to have cleared the way for the government’s planned abortion referendum in a country where artificially ending a pregnancy is illegal.

The Supreme Court’s seven judges unanimously ruled that the unborn does not have inherent constitutional rights outside the right to life in the contentious Eighth Amendment.

The amendment gives unborn children the right to life, which renders abortion illegal other than in exceptional circumstances.

Ireland’s Chief Justice Frank Clarke told the Supreme Court in Limerick: The present constitutional rights for the unborn are confined to the right to life guaranteed in article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment).

In January the Irish government mooted holding a referendum to change abortion laws at the end of May – the first time in 35 years in which voters would have the opportunity to change some of the world’s strictest laws on the issue.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the exact wording and date could only be set after the Supreme Court judgement in today’s appeal case.

He said if voters back a change to the constitution through a referendum the Government will table legislation which would allow for unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In the rest of the UK, pregnancies can be terminated up to the 24th week.

The ruling was sparked by a case in which a Nigerian man who was trying to revoke a 2008 deportation order made against him on the basis his Irish partner was pregnant at the time.

The High court found his unborn child had rights under the constitution beyond the right to life.

But the state appealed the finding and today reversed the High Court’s decision, finding the couple’s child had no constitutional rights beyond the Eighth Amendment while it was unborn.

The ruling did not change the decision to deport the man.

If the Supreme Court had found the child’s rights extended beyond the Eighth Amendment, the referendum might have needed to be broadened to take in other elements of the constitution, which could have delayed a vote.

Senator Catherine Noone, who welcomed the decision, said: Today the Supreme Court made a landmark decision.

This judgment will allow us to move forward to a May referendum on the 8th Amendment.

Ms Noone added: It is my belief that the only rights afforded to the unborn under the current constitutional status, is the right to life provided for in the Eighth Amendment and this does not extend to other areas of the constitution.

I urge us all to accept the Court’s judgment in good faith and move forward in a civilised and respectful manner, as has been the case for the most part so far.

(c) Sky News 2018: Ireland ruling paves way for abortion referendum