Taoiseach signals possibility of return to church service attendances in person

Former minister insists churches ‘a hell of a lot safer than supermarkets’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has indicated that the public may be permitted to attend religious services in person from next month. File Photograph: John McElroy

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has indicated that the public may be permitted to attend religious services in person from next month. File Photograph: John McElroy

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has indicated that the public may be permitted to attend religious services in person from next month.

Mr Martin confirmed the Government decision that from May 25th people will be allowed to attend funerals which “is still very difficult for people who have suffered bereavement. I think that’s one of the worst aspects of COVID-19.”

But he added the Government would consider public health advice “but also our own decision making in terms of what we believe to be the correct thing to do” in terms of attendances at church services.

Mr Martin said “I did say in my last address at the end of March that we would look at religious services in the context of the month of May”.

He pointed out that “we’ve learned many lessons in the pandemic and ... we’ve made good progress and the people responded very well and the numbers have come down”.

Mr Martin was responding in the Dáil to Independent TD Seán Canney who said churches were “safer than supermarkets,” which remained open all throughout the pandemic.

Breach

The Galway East TD and former minister said many clergy considered it a breach of trust that holding unauthorised services had been added to a regulation against illegal gatherings, punishable by a large fine.

Mr Martin insisted the Government was not “anti-religious” in any way. It was a general legal precaution against indoor gatherings. He insisted that “the only motivation is to protect public health and save lives”.

Mr Canney said: “I know a lot of people in my constituency where it was part of their daily routine, especially the retired, to go to Mass.”

As well as the right to worship it was also about mental health he said because there would probably be 20 or 30 people there. It was part of their socialising and they probably wen for a cup of coffee some days.

Mr Canney insisted that churches and parishioners had complied fully with all restrictions and when the churches last reopened briefly over Christmas “they were controlled and conducted in a way that was exemplary.”

He added: “I think a church is a hell of a lot safer place to go to Mass, where you have social distancing than actually going to a supermarket.

“The churches were closed again after Christmas. People are longing to get back to public worship, to receive the sacraments, and to do it in a way that complies with restrictions and with social distancing.”

Repeal

He called for repeal of the statutory instrument, “which I believe is really and truly a sword down into people who have religion. And I think it’s a wrong way for this country to be going.”

He added: “I think a church is a hell of a lot safer place to go to Mass, where you have social distancing than actually going to a supermarket.

“The churches were closed again after Christmas. People are longing to get back to public worship, to receive the sacraments, and to do it in a way that complies with restrictions and with social distancing.”

“But I think it needs to be said very loud and clear. The only motivation of Government is to protect life and to protect people from severe illness.

“There is no other motivation. The Government isn’t anti-religious and not out to suppress religious worship. Any suggestions to the contrary is deeply offensive and wrong and unfair.”

The regulation now available to punish illegal religious gatherings was one that “covers all indoor gatherings, which internationally have proven to be responsible for a lot of spread of infection.”

But he added: “We will be looking at this situation next week.”

The Government fully understood that attending religious services is key to mental health for many people, “key to their spirituality, key to their wellbeing and their faith and we do understand that people do really want to return to that to have those opportunities”.