Taoiseach, Government compared to Cromwell over restrictions, church closures

Minister condemns ‘outrageous’ Dáil claims by Independent TD Michael McNamara

The Taoiseach and the Government were compared to Oliver Cromwell in a Dáil row over Covid-19 restrictions, closure of churches and claims that Ireland is the only EU country "effectively locking people into their homes".

Minister of State Thomas Byrne said it was "outrageous" for Independent TD Michael McNamara to make such a comparison with the English soldier who suppressed rebellion in Ireland in the 17th century and crushed the Catholic church and clergy.

Mr McNamara made the claim as he hit out at the level of Covid-19 restrictions and the length of time they are in place.

The Clare TD said rights could be restricted on the basis of public health “but those restrictions have to be proportionate and necessary. In Ireland, churches and all religious denominations (places of worship) are closed”.


Mr McNamara said the Scottish supreme court had on Wednesday ruled that it was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and disproportionate to close the churches.

“If it is disproportionate in Scotland, it is disproportionate in Ireland because we are bound by the same convention.” He said Ireland is the only country in Europe where churches are closed, and if it is stopping people exercising freedom of movement and “if we are the only country in Europe with half of our shops closed and the only country in Europe effectively locking people into their homes, then I suggest it is disproportionate”.

He said Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on radio “that we live in a liberal democracy. Either he does not know what a liberal democracy is or the man is deluded.”

He said Mr Martin promised to govern as a republican when he was elected. “There are many republican traditions, one of which is the tradition of Oliver Cromwell. It is in that republican tradition he and the Government are currently governing. Coming from Drogheda, the Minister of State will be quite well aware of what the republican tradition of Oliver Cromwell is all about.”

Mr Byrne said that “for anybody to come into the House and accuse anyone, particularly someone born and reared in Drogheda, of being comparable to Cromwell is outrageous”. Three thousand people were killed by Cromwell’s men when they stormed Drogheda.

When Mr McNamara said Cromwell is revered in Britain the Minister said “he is certainly not revered in Drogheda and east Meath”.

Mr Byrne said “my line of Byrnes were moved from Wicklow to Mayo because of Cromwell. What the Deputy said is outrageous”. The Clare TD retorted, “but true. It hurts sometimes.”

The Minister of State, who has responsibility for European Affairs, said the Taoiseach is dealing with freedom of movement, supports the European digital green certificate to allow travel within the EU for those who have proof of vaccination against coronavirus, have recovered from the virus or have a negative PCR test.

But he said at the moment they are not encouraging any international travel but are prioritising getting vaccines rolled out as quickly as possible and “to keep people safe and healthy”.

Earlier the Taoiseach told the Dáil the Government would consider allowing more people than the current 10 permitted to attend religious services including funerals in the review of restrictions, but he could give “no guarantees”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times