The Government hopes to fast-track the introduction of safe access zones to prevent protests outside hospitals and clinics that provide abortion services.

Health Minister Simon Harris had hoped to pass legislation to ban such demonstrations in tandem with the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill, which will come into force from January 1.

Mr Harris says the lack of an exclusion zone around hospitals and clinics “carries a significant likelihood of demonstrations taking place”.

“This is distressing and upsetting for the service user and indeed the staff,” said Mr Harris, who will be pushing to have the legislation brought forward as a matter of urgency.

Gardaí were called to Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital during the referendum campaign when anti-abortion groups displayed banners with extreme and graphic images.

Mr Harris has already secured Government approval to draft legislative proposals which would prevent further protests, however, it will not be in place when abortion services are first rolled out.

The proposals will ensure safe access zones are designated around and outside relevant premises to make sure staff and patients can access them “without fear of intimidation or harassment and without being subjected to unwanted communications by any means, including oral, written and/or visual displays, in relation to services for termination of pregnancy”.

It would also prohibit interfering or communicating with a person in a safe access zone in a way that “causes distress, and to prohibit capturing and/or distributing images of any person in a safe access zone”.

A spokesperson for the minister said: “These provisions would not limit freedom of speech or prevent demonstrations against termination of pregnancy locations other than outside health services. It will also not limit other demonstrations for example, regarding industrial relations, at health service premises.

“The minister’s priority is ensuring service users and staff are protected and not subject to unnecessary intimidation or duress.”