Northern Ireland news

Churches can open for individual prayer during lockdown

Churches have made a mammoth effort to be safe, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin has said. St Mary's Church in Belfast city centre is among those to introduce measures to limit congregations. Picture by Hugh Russell
Digital Staff

The Northern Ireland Executive has decided to allow churches to stay open for individual prayer during the two week 'circuit-break'. 

Drive-in services are also permitted.

Retail will also be permitted to operate click & collect services.

Click and collect will be allowed to operate on an appointment-only basis.

Last week the Executive agreed to tighter Covid-19 restrictions with a two-week "circuit-break" beginning on 27 November.

As part of the restrictions places of worship would close for all but weddings, civil partnerships and funerals from Friday until 11 December.

The change in rules, however, followed calls by Church leaders across NI for the change.

In reaction, Ireland's most senior Catholic cleric accused Stormont of going back on "assurances" given by ordering the closure of churches from Friday.

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said he "cannot understand how a person may still go to an off-licence to buy alcohol but might not be permitted to visit and sit in quiet solitary prayer in a large church".

Explaining the Executive's decision Health Minister Robin Swann said that churches had been included because of recent cases linked to them.

Last week, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church had described the closure of places of worship as a cause of "significant regret and concern".

Following today's announcement, First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This weekend sees the beginning of Advent and we have agreed that it is important that all places of worship can remain open for individual prayer. The Executive also confirmed that drive-in services are permitted. 

 “It is hoped that these small adjustments will help to maintain wellbeing and reduce pressure as we ask everyone to really dig deep and support the two week effort to bring down rates of infection.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We have listened to views on a range of issues and agreed that retail businesses will be able to operate a click and collect service in a controlled manner that helps to ensure the safety of both customers and staff.

“We also understand how important it is for many people to attend their place of worship and have agreed that they can still do so individually.

“These two weeks offer us the best chance of pushing community transmission as low as possible to allow a safer Christmas for everyone. We urge everyone to continue working with us, to please play your part and keep doing everything you can to stop the spread of the virus.”

Ministers also confirmed that outdoor visitor attractions will be closed for the duration of the two weeks; and that self-catering accommodation will only be permitted to operate on a restricted basis, in line with arrangements in place for other accommodation providers, including hotels.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news