Photo Credit: Alde Party (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has insisted that his government is not “anti-religious”, and called all claims to the contrary “deeply offensive.”

“I think it needs to be said very loud and clear,” the Taoiseach said.

“The only motivation of the government is to protect life and to protect people from severe illness. There is no other motivation.

“The Government isn’t anti-religious and not out to suppress religious worship. Any suggestion to the contrary is deeply offensive and wrong and unfair,” adding that religious worship was “a very fundamental right in any democratic society.”

“In ordinary times would not apply such restrictions on people, but a global pandemic is such a context.”

The Taoiseach’s comments come just after a top doctor of law, Professor Oran Doyle from the Covid-19 Law and Human Rights Observatory at Trinity College, revealed that under the government’s new covid-19 lockdown rules, attending Catholic confession, even socially-distanced outdoors, is now a criminal offence, whereas having a casual chat under the same circumstances is not.

“If a priest were to do the sacrament of confession with one parishioner outside, socially-distanced, that would be a criminal offence,” Doyle said this week during an RTÉ radio 1 interview.

“But if the priest were to meet the parishioner for a chat, that wouldn’t be a criminal offence, because that’s dealt with under the other regulations.”

Not long before that, new regulations were passed where the State clarified that either celebrating or attending any religious service is a criminal offence.

To date there have been numerous instances where individuals of different denominations have found themselves targeted by these laws, including a Catholic priest and two non-denominational pastors.

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All of this is despite the fact that churches – which are among the largest buildings in any community – are some of the safest places as regards lack of covid-19 transmission, according to the HSE’s own figures.

According to the HSPC, there have been more than twice as many outbreaks at retail shops as there have been in Irish churches, yet retail remains open and churches remain closed.