Coronavirus: People have ‘civic duty’ to maintain social distance, archbishop says

CofI bishop Paul Colton calls for ‘all-Ireland’ approach to mass gatherings to be established

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said it is ‘utter irresponsibility’ not to maintain social distance during the coronavirus pandemic. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said it is ‘utter irresponsibility’ not to maintain social distance during the coronavirus pandemic. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.


Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said it is “utter irresponsibility” not to maintain social distance during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let no-one think that they know better,” he said. “We are in a difficult situation and one that will not see its end for some time. We are being asked to take very restrictive measures. We are obliged to respond with a sense of personal responsibility and civic duty.”

Archbishop Martin was speaking at the traditional St Patrick’s Day blessing of the shamrock ceremony in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral.

“Today, St Patrick’s Day 2020, is different. We celebrate with a small number of people present, linked by webcam with others. All of us are fearful about the future and many are fearful as they feel increasingly vulnerable,” he said.

“Many are suffering. I think of the elderly and the vulnerable and especially of those who live alone. I think of parents, in particular lone parents, who have to combine work and the care of children now that schools are closed. I think of families with challenging special needs and of people who were already struggling with illness before the additional fear of this virus emerged.”

Archbishop Martin praised “the great commitment of our public health services, especially” nurses, doctors, public health officials and carers.

“We owe them all a debt of gratitude. I thank our priests as they continue to minister to the sick, the troubled and the bereaved. Generosity and creativity are being combined by so many to respond to what is above all a call to solidarity, a call to care for one another.”


At 11am on Tuesday church bells rang out in Catholic parishes throughout Ireland as an expression of solidarity as people deal with the coronavirus crisis.

In a St Patrick’s Day message, the Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin said “the coming weeks and months are going to bring challenges and uncertainty for all of us, as we are reminded of the fragility of human life and of our dependence on one another and on God.”

It was “a time for an outpouring of the works of mercy towards the sick and vulnerable, and for a spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice, compassion and charity in Ireland, and across the world,” he said, and called on people to “reach out to neighbours and relatives who may feel troubled or alone.”

Meanwhile, Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross Bishop Paul Colton has said the lack of all-island rules about mass gatherings and school openings has not helped the fight against Covid-19.

Calling for a unified approach, he said: “The situation is not helped, I feel, in an all-Ireland church as ours is, by the fact that there is not a common approach to ‘mass gatherings’ within the two jurisdictions.”

Confirming the cancellation of all church services in the Cork diocese, he said “a myriad of views” exist among members of the Church of Ireland community in Cork city and county.

“In this diocese, I have discovered that clergy and laity alike have a myriad of different views about what the right thing to do is - often mutually contradictory viewpoints,” he said.

Adhered strictly

His diocese adhered strictly to the Government’s guidelines on numbers and social distancing when it held 66 services on Sunday, helped by the fact that congregations rarely attract more than 40 people.

Many appreciated the opportunity to pray together, albeit in smaller numbers, though many clergy expressed “understandable uncertainty and anxiety about what should happen in the days ahead”. he went on

He said 78 lay and ordained ministers are needed for services in the diocese, but 47 of them are themselves in the ‘at risk’ age group. “A number have already had to self-isolate on medical advice,” he said.

Webcams are being increasingly used to broadcast services, including one that is now being installed at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork. His congregations are keeping in touch “ using a host of inventive ways,” he said.

Services attended by less than 100 people have been cleared to go ahead in the archdiocese of Dublin and Glendalough, in the Tuam and Kilmore dioceses and at parishes in the Republic belonging to the cross border Clogher diocese and Armagh archdiocese.

At the weekend Rev Stephen Neill, rector at Celbridge and Straffan in the Archdiocese of Dublin and Glendalough, announced the suspension of services in his parishes to protect vulnerable elderly.