Northern Ireland news

Bishops seek meeting with Republic's health minister over 'draconian' ban on Mass

Archbishop Eamon Martin along with other bishops have criticised a ban on public mass in the Republic

THE Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland has accused the Republic's government of operating in a "clandestine manner" by introducing a ban on public Mass.

A statutory 'instrument' was published earlier this week after health minister Stephen Donnelly signed a regulation allowing only virtual religious services, in line with other Covid restrictions.

In a statement, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he only became aware of this measure on Friday and consulted with the other Archbishops.

He branded the legislation as "draconian" and confirmed they have requested a meeting with Mr Donnelly.

"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.

"The precise provisions are unclear and at first reading appear to be draconian, going further than the restrictions we have been cooperating with throughout the pandemic to date. We shall be seeking legal counsel to advise on several questions concerning the extent of the statutory instrument."

Taoiseach Micheál Martin met bishops, including Archbishop Martin, last Thursday.

Mr Donnelly has defended the restrictions on Mass, stating there is a ban on all large indoor gatherings and that services will resume in accordance with public health advice.

However, Archbishop said the importance of people practising their faith publicly has "not been sufficiently recognised in statute".

"Together with other Churches and faith communities, we have been co-operating fully with public health messages for more than a year now," he said on Saturday.

"...It is highly disappointing then, that despite the reassurances of the Taoiseach to church leaders only two days ago that he understood the importance of faith and worship to the people of Ireland, this statutory instrument was introduced in a clandestine manner and without notice or consultation. We consider this to be a breach of trust.

"We will seek an immediate meeting with Minister Donnelly and we request the suspension of this harsh and unclear statutory instrument."

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