Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he does not approve of any “unilateral breaching” of Covid-19 regulations after a bishop said he would continue to offer Communions and Confirmations.
The Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran has told parish priests in his diocese that they can proceed with Communions and Confirmations in the coming weeks despite the ban on such religious services.
Mr Martin said he wanted to know if it was “too much to ask” that the current regulations are adhered to while the country makes significant advances in the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
“I’d say to the church authorities that the Government’s only motivation here in terms of the regulations we have brought in, in respect of gatherings and congregations, is to protect people and to protect people’s health. That is our only motivation. And I think that should be accepted in good faith.
“I don’t approve of any unilateral breaching of regulations no matter what quarter they come from. We are always open as a Government to engaging with sectors,” Mr Martin said.
He said that good progress has been made in recent weeks on the vaccination campaign and that this will increase even further in the coming weeks.
“We are now moving into the younger age cohort of 16- to 17-year-olds, and we will been moving into the 12- to 15-year-old [cohort]. I’m wondering, is it too much to ask that we wait another number of weeks to get into a really strong protective situation with very high numbers of vaccination.
“We are significantly ahead of the EU average in terms of the uptake of vaccinations and all the age cohorts. We understand fully the difficulties and disruption this has caused normal society including in terms of the normal conduct of religious service, we understand that fully. But it’s all done with one purpose to protect public health and to protect our citizens.”
Current Covid-19 measures say ceremonies including First Holy Communions and Confirmations should not take place at this time. Baptisms may proceed on August 5th and they must follow all protective measures. Gatherings after the ceremony should be avoided.
Masses and other in-person religious services are permitted, but with protective measures and a maximum of 50 people are allowed attend. Where a venue can hold more than 50, that may be permitted, provided safety measures, including social distancing and ventilation requirements, are observed.
Martin Long, a spokesman for the Catholic bishops, said there was no centralised policy or approach to Communions and Confirmations.
“The responsibility for ministering the sacraments rests with individual diocese bishops and their local parish priests,” he said.
In a statement, the Diocese of Clogher, said Bishop of Clogher Larry Duffy had decided the celebration of Communion and Confirmations may take place in its parishes in the Republic from 20th August.
“The celebration of First Holy Communion and Confirmation has been completed already in the parishes situated in the northern part of our diocese, with full adherence to public health protocols,” the statement said.
The Diocese of Clogher covers Co Monaghan, as well as parts of Louth, Cavan, Fermanagh, and Tyrone.
“The appropriate protocols presently in place in our churches will be maintained, and families are reminded of the need for adherence to public health guidance in relation to social interactions following the church celebration,” the statement said.
“As with the practice last year, these liturgies will take place with small groups of children where attendance is restricted to the child, the parents/guardians and sponsor,” it said.
The Taoiseach was speaking on Friday after a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council which was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and a delegation from the Northern Ireland Executive led by First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan gave a presentation to the meeting in relation to the current status of the pandemic.
Mr Martin said that the chief medical officer pointed out that there is still uncertainty about the trajectory of the virus and that planning must start now for the winter period.
“He made the point there is still uncertainty out there in respect of the Delta variance and where things will go, but I think he made some interesting points about the winter and the need to start planning for the winter period in terms of the protections that we can put in place.
“He did make the point that from a positive perspective the behaviours we have all learned, the mask wearing, in terms of social distancing, they will actually help us in that regard.
“He was in the overall sense pleased with the fact that the figures are not as high now as perhaps were predicted some weeks ago, notwithstanding the fact that he said there was uncertainty.”