Following confirmation provided by the state to Galway businessman Declan Ganley, that it is unlawful and an offence to hold or attend public Mass subject to penalties, Independent TD for Laois Offaly Carol Nolan has written to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly asking him to correct the Dáil record.
Deputy Nolan said she had taken this step in light of the fact that Minister Donnelly had explicitly assured Oireachtas members in October that no such penal offence existed when questioned on the floor of the Dáil.
Replying to Independent TD Michael McNamara at the time, Minister Donnelly said the following:
“I assure the Deputy and other colleagues that with regard to penalties, religious services are non-penal in that there is no penalty attached to them.”
When challenged on the accuracy of this claim, by Deputy McNamara and Deputy Mattie McGrath, Minister Donnelly said:
“I signed the regulations last night and I assure Deputies that it is a non-penal provision and it will remain thus.”
Deputy Carol Nolan went on to say that while she does not believe it was Minister Donnelly’s intention to deliberately mislead the House, the Dáil record must be corrected and updated as a matter of urgency.
“We have enough half-truths and ambiguities existing around this matter already. It would be entirely unacceptable if the same kind of misleading interpretations were allowed to remain as part of the official Dáil record.”
Deputy Nolan’s remarks come as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have expressed concerns around the fact that there are currently no explicit protections for any gatherings in places of religious worship except for funerals:
“We have seen last week that the Scottish Supreme court has found a similar de facto ban on religious gatherings to be a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of religion, as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which also applies in Ireland. In light of this ruling, Government must include small, safe religious gatherings as a reasonable excuse to leave one’s home within the next set of regulations. We suggest that rules on holding ceremonies outdoors, small numbers, social distancing, and wearing masks could be provided.”