Ministers of State urge more flexibility around number allowed at funerals

‘People should be allowed burial with dignity’, Minister of State for financial services Sean Fleming said

A number of Ministers of State have said there should be increased flexibility around the number permitted at funerals following criticism of current limits by the Catholic hierarchy.

The Irish Bishops Conference issued a statement this week saying that “severe restrictions” on funeral Masses were “causing untold grief to many families”.

It said the four Catholic archbishops met Taoiseach Micheál Martin last month on the impact of Covid-19 on church services, and he had promised to give “serious consideration” to their appeals, including that the number of mourners permitted at funeral services be increased to 25.

Hospital Report

The statement said the archbishops noted “with disappointment” that none of the issues they raised had been responded to.

Minister of State for financial services Sean Fleming said there should be more flexibility on numbers for family members.

“I have encountered funerals where there are more than 10 in the immediate family. Covid has been difficult enough, and people should be allowed burial with dignity, and that means with their immediate family around them. If that’s more than 10, that should be the case.”

Minister of State for disability Anne Rabbitte said church leaders and public health officials could work together to assess what number of people could safely attend funerals. "At a time when families are grieving, I think this support would be beneficial."

Minister of state for special education Josepha Madigan said the limit should be raised to 25, like other countries. “Ireland is out of step having a total ban on religious services.”

Minister of State for farm safety Martin Heydon said while he understood the reasons for restrictions, numbers at funerals needed to be a priority as overall case numbers continued to improve. “Even a modest increase up from 10 as a first step would address the impact on some of those larger family funerals.”

Minister of State for trade promotion Robert Troy said he "fully believes" numbers at funerals should be increased, and that if Covid-19 case numbers were low the Government should consider allowing public worship during Easter, "even if these were held outdoors".

Lottery

Aontú leader Peadar Toibin said at the moment attendance at a funeral "can be a lottery", and that "priests are forced to turn family members away at the doors of church".

“The reality is that at many funerals people are gathering in their dozens outside churches in an uncontrolled fashion but are barred from the church, which is the most controlled setting,” he said.

Independent TD for Laois-Offaly Carol Nolan said that the limits were "completely detached from the nature of how we as a people express our grief and share our solidarity with those who suffer". She said current policy was "cruel and tormenting".

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said the bishops have "a strong point".

“They are right to encourage people to use their lobbying voice to seek arrangements that are proportionate given the important rites at stake but also the public health challenge.”

He said Government should acknowledge the sacrifice all people of faith have made by not exercising their constitutional right to free profession and practice of religion.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheál Mr Martin said he acknowledged that limits on funeral attendance were "a further traumatic blow" to families, but said the public health concern focused on what happened after, not during a funeral.

He said there are “well documented cases of significant spread of disease” at locations across the country.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

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