Sharp Dáil exchanges over restrictions on religious services

Cabinet ‘most anti-Christian Government of all time’, rails Independent Mattie McGrath

Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath told the Dáil it is awful ‘to think that people will be persecuted for going to Mass or having public worship’.

A Government Minister has rejected claims that the Cabinet is the most “anti-Christian Government of all time” in the ongoing row over restrictions on religious service.

Minister of State for Health Anne Rabbitte reiterated the public health advice that based on the current epidemiology situation “it will be necessary to celebrate Easter online at home this year. This is for the protection of our friends and families and our wider communities.”

She insisted the Government is not anti-Church and had put the “public health of the entire community across this island first”.

Ms Rabbitte was responding in the Dáil to four Independent TDs who called for places of worship to be reopened to a limited number of people for Easter.


Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath claimed “this Cabinet will go down in history as the most anti-Christian Government of all time since we got our freedom back . . . to think that people will be persecuted for going to Mass or having public worship”.

Mr McGrath pointed to a Scottish supreme court ruling on Wednesday that it was in breach to the European Convention on Human Rights to close churches. He said “if it’s against Scotland’s European rights it’s against ours. I’m appealing especially for Holy Week” for religious services to be allowed.

He said “funerals cannot be restricted to 10 people. It’s causing huge difficulties for priests, for funeral undertakers and for everyone else”.

A parish priest had contacted him about a note he saw on a window “where nine people can go into a chipper or takeaway and nobody allowed inside a church”.

Limerick TD Richard O’Donoghue said “140 people or more were in this room (Convention Centre) today voting on legislation. There’s churches in this country bigger than this and yet you only allow 10 people in.”

He rejected the Minister’s claim that people would celebrate Easter with online services.

“The internet service does not allow people to go online because it’s broken down every day because of the failure of the rollout of broadband.”

He said “there was a funeral last week where it was interrupted four or five times and people trying to listen to a Mass of a loved one and they could not do it”.

‘Well ventilated buildings’

Independent TD Carol Nolan said it was a “very dark time for many people, so why not give them the solace of attending their churches for the consolation and support that people do get from that”. Ms Nolan said churches had put measures in place and it was “unnecessary to deny access” when churches are “huge buildings and well ventilated”.

She said church attendance was found to be legal in Scotland but “but here it appears that the state don’t know whether it’s legal or illegal, so that shows us straight away that they’re on very shaky ground and are very unsure of themselves”.

Independent TD Michael Collins said “the schools in this country are allowed open but the churches are not”. He said Ireland is the “third country in the world” to close its churches.

He said “it’s a shameful act and it’s time for this Government to sit up and step back and not be so anti-church”.

But insisting the Government is not anti-church, Ms Rabbitte said “unfortunately we have found ourselves where we are at this moment in time”.

The Minister acknowledged the actions of all churches to adhere to restrictions and welcomed ongoing dialogue with the Government.

She said she would bring the matter to the Minister for Health’s attention but added that “at this moment in time, Government has put public health for the entire community right across this island first.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times