Archbishops from the Catholic Church have criticised what they describe as a “clandestine” and “draconian” move to restrict public religious services.
A new Covid-19 statutory instrument, signed into law by the Minister for Health during the week, makes it a criminal offence to attend certain types of indoor events or gatherings.
The Irish Times reports that the Catholic Church is taking legal advice following the publication of the measure.
The new law focuses on indoor gatherings of all types, including religious services other than weddings or funerals, with a penalty for breaches including a fine of €127 or up to six months in jail, upon summary conviction.
Archbishop Eamon Martin has described the new measure as “draconian” and claimed it was introduced and published in a “clandestine” manner.
Mr Martin said Catholic archbishops had not been aware of the new law until Friday, when it was published in Iris Oifigiúil, although it was signed on Monday of last week by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
Mr Martin said he and his fellow archbishops consider the publication of the statutory instrument, together with associated penal provisions, to be “provocative and formally enacting a potential infringement of religious freedom and of constitutional rights”.
He added: “At first reading [the provisions] appear to be draconian, going further than the restrictions we have been co-operating with throughout the pandemic to date.”
Mr Martin said the Catholic archbishops were now seeking “an immediate meeting with Minister Donnelly and we request the suspension of this harsh and unclear statutory instrument.”
Speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr Donnelly said he would be “very, very happy” to meet the archbishops and insisted churches were not being targeted.
The new regulation was about high-risk indoor gatherings, he said.