A ‘provocative’ law on religious services


Sir, – Further to “Catholic Church criticises ‘provocative’ law on religious services” (News, April 19th), every person committed to upholding constitutional freedoms and every person of faith should oppose the Government’s draconian and provocative regulation as an unjust and unjustified assault on religious freedom.

Our Constitution acknowledges the fundamental right to public worship. The importance of religious freedom to the courts in many jurisdictions is reflected in recent affirmative decisions, from Scotland and France to the US.

What is again striking is that the Government has not offered any scientific evidence to support its latest restrictions on church services, which are unique in their severity across the EU.

The precautionary principle was understandable in spring 2020 when there was little knowledge about Covid-19. There is greater knowledge now. It provides no basis for statutory instrument 171.

The effect of this lack of clarity will be to corrode respect for the rule of law and to further alienate people of faith already disenchanted and dismayed by this Government’s repressive policies. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

A chara, – Prof Oran Doyle writes about the new regulations in statutory instrument 171 regarding religious services: “It is now a unequivocally a criminal offence for anyone to attend a gathering of people for religious reasons” (Letters, April 19th).

I see two anomalies with how these regulations are formulated. Section 2(f) permits the attendance of only the minister of religion to “lead worship or services remotely through the use of information and communications technology”. Government seems to envisage such services as led by only one person, the “minister of religion or priest (or any equivalent thereof in any religion)”. There is no provision for a sacristan or reader or cantor or any person who is not a “minister”. Perhaps we can get around that by designating all other persons who take part in the worship as “ministers” – which indeed they are! Leadership is not a one-person function, but a community function.

The second anomaly would seem to disagree with Prof Doyle. Statutory Instrument 171 adds an “Explanatory Note” which says: “(This note is not part of the Instrument and does not purport to be a legal interpretation.) These Regulations amend the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) Regulations 2021 (S.I. No. 168 of 2021) to provide for restrictions on specified events. This is a penal provision.”

It’s clear: “This is a penal provision” is not part of the instrument and is not a legal interpretation!

So is it a criminal offence or not? Is it the designation of a “penal provision” which make it a criminal offence? Does the Minster know? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16 .