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Thousands march in Dublin demanding change to Ireland's abortion law

Demonstrators at The March for Choice in Dublin. Credit: PA

Tens of thousands of people have marched through Dublin demanding change to Ireland's strict abortion laws.

The annual March for Choice was the first major demonstration on the abortion issue since the Government set an indicative timescale of early summer 2018 for a referendum on the section of the state's constitution that ensures tight legal restrictions on terminations.

Organisers estimated that 40,000 people took part in Saturday's march.

Campaigners gathered at Parnell Square from lunchtime before making their way down the city's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street. It took 45 minutes for the parade to pass the street's landmark Spire monument.

Chanting, singing and waving placards, demonstrators then marched along the River Liffey past the historic Custom House before crossing the water on their way towards the Irish parliament.

A number of speakers then addressed huge crowds at Merrion Square.

Anti-abortion activists staged smaller scale events elsewhere in Dublin and in other cities across Ireland but, unlike previous years, there was no evidence of direct counter-protests on the route of the march.

Credit: PA

It was the sixth annual March for Choice organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC).

The existing Eighth Amendment of Ireland's constitution affords equal rights to pregnant women and unborn children. Added to the constitution in 1983, the amendment recognises an unborn child's right to life.

Terminations are currently only permitted when the life of the mother is at risk and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion in Ireland is 14 years in prison.

Thousands of Irish women travel to Great Britain every year to have a legal abortion.

With the prospect of a referendum having been on the horizon for some time, pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates have already been long campaigning on the emotive issue.

Those efforts are intensifying now a timeframe has been set for the vote.

The march in Dublin is the first big set-piece since Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced on Tuesday that a referendum will likely be called in May or June next year.

Credit: PA