Attending Mass a criminal offence under Covid-19 regulations, court hears

Businessman Declan Ganley had challenged Government over Level 5 restrictions

Businessman Declan Ganley's challenge over Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions preventing him attending Mass has been further adjourned at the High Court to April 27th.

Mr Ganley was this week permitted to provide an affidavit from an Irish Bishop for the case and has also been permitted to amend his grounding statement.

The amendment will introduce a claim based on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 9 was relied upon in a recent case in Scotland brought by a group of 27 Church leaders. That case resulted in Covid regulations banning public worship being struck down two days before communal worship was due to resume under the next phase of lockdown easing.


In the Ganley case, the sides had agreed on an adjournment to April 20th but Mr Justice Charles Meenan said on Tuesday that would not allow sufficient time to finalise certain pre-trial matters.

Darren Lehane SC, for Mr Ganley, told the judge that his side, in line with the court’s direction, had written to the State querying whether its position was that attendance at, and celebration of, public Masses, other than funeral and wedding Masses permitted under the relevant regulations, was a criminal offence and the State had replied in the affirmative.

Catherine Donnelly SC, for the State, confirmed that is the State’s position.

Mr Lehane also said the State was not objecting to an amendment of Mr Ganley's statement of grounds for judicial review as long as it could contest the amended pleas in its own amended statement of opposition.

The judge granted liberty to deliver the amended statement of grounds and gave the State seven days to deliver its amended statement of opposition.

After Mr Lehane said Mr Ganley wished to file an additional affidavit from an Irish bishop, the judge gave liberty to file that affidavit.

In his action, Mr Ganley, a practising Roman Catholic, claims, as a result of the restrictions, he cannot leave his home to attend Mass in breach of the State’s guarantee of the free practice of religion in Article 44 of the Constitution.

While certain religious activities, including weddings and funerals, are permitted, the restrictions prevent him and others attending Mass or similar religious services, he says.

Last November, he sought leave to bring judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Health, with Ireland and the Attorney General as notice parties.

The sides have since agreed the action can be dealt with via a “telescoped” hearing in which the leave application and full case are heard together.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times