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Taoiseach fails to confirm Health Minister will correct Dáil record on “penal” religious services

Taoiseach Martin was yesterday asked by Deputy Michael McNamara to confirm that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will correct statements he had made that organising or attending a public religious service would not be subject to penalty.

Minister Donnelly had previously told the Dáil that restrictions on religious services were “non-penal provisions”, and that there would be “no penalties attached to them.” That statement was questioned at the time by Deputy McNamara and Deputy Mattie McGrath. Minister Donnelly assured them that “I signed the regulations last night and I assure Deputies that it is a non-penal provision and it will remain thus.”

Since that time a pastor has been arrested at a religious service and a number of fines have been levied on those organising or attending religious services. The Government itself recently admitted that the restrictions are penal as part of its response to a legal challenge brought against the restrictions by businessman Declan Ganley.

The Taoiseach failed to provide an answer as to the correcting of the Dáil record, instead saying that “I fully respect religious worship and the right for people to attend services” and “Covid-19 is the enemy here, not the Government.”

Deputy McNamara responded by pointing out that the issue “is not whether he respects public or private worship” but rather that it appears that Minister Donnelly had made incorrect statements to the Dáil. The Taoiseach made no further comment on the matter.

On the statement that “Covid-19 is the enemy here, not the Government” it is worth pointing out that the banning of public religious worship is explicitly a policy of the government, and not merely a natural consequence of Covid-19. Nearly all European countries have allowed public worship, with some restrictions. Our Government, led by Taoiseach Martin, has deliberately chosen to close public worship entirely.

Deputy Carol Nolan has also written to Minister Donnelly calling on him to correct the record. Deputy Nolan said that “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.”

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