A Co. Cavan priest has been threatened with prosecution for holding a number of public Masses in violation of Covid-19 laws.

The Anglo-Celt reports that Fr PJ Hughes from the rural south Cavan parish of Mullahoran could face a fine of up to €2,500 and/or six months in prison after Gardaí confirmed to him they were preparing a file for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a move they later denied making.

Fr. Hughes was visited by two members of An Garda Síochána last Sunday before Mass began and was informed that he was breaking the law, an assertion the priest challenged by referencing Article 44 of the Constitution which deals with the right to practice religion freely.

He was again visited after the Mass by a total of four Gardaí who informed him that a book of evidence was being prepared for the DPP.

Fr Hughes explained to the Celt his feeling, as he did to members of An Garda Síochána who presented last Sunday: “People come to Mass because they want to receive Holy Communion. It’s not just a sweet I’m giving out, it’s the mystery of our faith, that Jesus is present in the Sacrament.

“That’s our faith, and I’m not going to close the door in these people’s faces.”

He adds: “Faith is very important to these people. You look at some of the people coming to Mass. Some of them are living alone, they’re elderly, living alone, some arrive a few minutes early and light a candle, say prayers and then they go home.”

Fr. Hughes told the paper that he has been given “one more chance” to comply with the restrictions, but that he “no support, only from the people maybe…”

“So I put myself out on a limb. I have to make a decision to celebrate Mass everyday, but I cannot celebrate it at the time that’s designated because people will come in. So I’ll say Mass at a different time each day, on Facebook, for the people. Because I don’t want to be prosecuted either, although I would like to test to see would they go and bring me before the DPP because I just think this is scandalous really, we’re gone to a police state.”

The priest told the Anglo-Celt that he is anxious to avoid prosecution because it could affect his right to travel.

“It would be marked on my passport, and for that reason I would not like to lose that freedom. Other than that I wouldn’t mind.”

When contacted by the Anglo-Celt, An Garda Síochána reportedly said “no further investigation” was taking place and that “no action” would arise from their attendance at the church.