Archbishop criticises 'draconian' rule which may ban religious services

Archbishop criticises 'draconian' rule which may ban religious services

The Catholic Primate of All Ireland has called for a suspension of the 'harsh and unclear' regulation. File Picture: Jim Coughlan

The Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh says he is seeking legal advice and an "immediate meeting" with health minister Stephen Donnelly over a regulation prohibiting certain religious services.

Statutory instrument 171 of 2021, which came into effect last Tuesday, and was officially announced in Iris Oifigiúil on Friday, would see many in-person religious gatherings outlawed, and only virtual services permitted.

In a statement, the Archbishop said the move was both "draconian" and "provocative".  

He said he had consulted with other Archbishops on the matter after he became aware of the publication of the instrument on Friday.

Religious services not specified  

The new statutory instrument outlaws gatherings for certain "specified events" but is not directed at religious services specifically.

Priests or other ministers of religion should "lead worship or services remotely through the use of information and communications technology," according to the one sub-section of the instrument.

The only religious services noted as being exempt are weddings and funerals. 

"We consider the publication of this statutory instrument, together with associated penal provisions, to be provocative and formally enacting a potential infringement of religious freedom and of constitutional rights," Archbishop Martin said.

Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin. File Picture
Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin. File Picture

He said the church had co-operated with public health guidelines all throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

"At the same time, we have consistently impressed on government that people of faith value highly their spiritual well-being and consider the public practice of their faith as essential — something which has not been sufficiently recognised in statute." 

The Archbishop said the instrument was especially disappointing, given "reassurances of the Taoiseach to Church leaders only three days ago that he understood the importance of faith and worship to the people of Ireland." 

He said the instrument was published and introduced in "a clandestine manner without notice or consultation". 

We consider this to be a breach of trust.

The Archbishops have called for a suspension of the "harsh and unclear instrument", and are seeking an urgent meeting with the health minister to discuss it. 

Speaking on This Week on RTÉ Radio 1 his afternoon, the health minister defended the move and said he would be "very happy" to meet with the archbishops.

Mr Donnelly has insisted that the Government move was concerned with all high-risk indoor gatherings, and not specifically directed at religious gatherings and the Church. 

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