The Irish government will not be lifting a ban on public worship services over the coming weeks after five Catholic bishops met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night.

Ireland and Wales are the only countries in Europe not allowing people to attend church services or other religious gatherings, prompting the four archbishops of Ireland to request a meeting with the government to express their opposition to the restrictions.

According to the Catholic Communications office, discussion at the meeting “focused mainly on the effect which the current Covid-19 restrictions are having on the health and well-being of the faith community and the great desire to return to worship as soon as possible.”

“The Archbishops emphasised that they are fully supportive of the Public Health messages but highlighted that the coming together in prayer and worship, especially for Mass and the Sacraments, is fundamental to Christian tradition and a source of nourishment for the life and well-being of whole communities.  The importance of gathering for worship as a source of consolation and hope at Christmas time was stressed,” the statement read.

The delegation, which comprised of Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA and Bishop Dermot Farrell, reportedly emphasised the measures churches have taken to remain as safe as possible for parishioners.

“The Taoiseach thanked the Archbishops for their support and acknowledged the major role that Religious leaders have in supporting people and giving hope at this time of stress and worry – reaching out to those who may feel isolated or marginalised. It was acknowledged that pastoral work continues at parish level even as the celebration of Mass is moved on-line. The challenges of those suffering bereavement at this time were acknowledged, particularly as we enter the traditional time of remembrance in the month of November,” according to the press release.

In an apparent rejection of the bishops’ request that churches re-open for public Mass, the Taoiseach outlined the reasoning behind the Government’s plan for living with Covid-19 “and the need to strike the right balance between all forms of social and economic activity and public health.”

It is unclear whether churches will re-open in time for Christmas following the conclusion of Level 5 restrictions at the end of November.