Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has added his voice to those calling for the re-evaluation of the ’50 people only’ rule which applies to the re-opening of churches and places of worship on Monday.
Deputy Toibín insisted that “now more than ever faith and spirituality is playing an important role in so many people’s lives”.
He paid tribute to the work of parishes and communities across the island. “We see villages joining together in prayer for those who are sick, we see the wonderful efforts of parish priests in keeping communities together, checking in on the vulnerable, the grieving, the sick and the elderly in any given parish’.
Mr Toibín said that “a few weeks ago the Government guidelines were suggesting that places of worship would not reopen until the very end, that sporting events and all sorts of other gatherings would be getting the green light ahead of mosques, synagogues or churches”.
The Meath East deputy insisted that the go-person limit on attendance at Mass fail “to take into account is the fact that you could have a small chapel on the side of a mountain in rural Ireland that can barely hold 50 people, and you could have a cathedral in a city that can contain thousands.
“Churches are often by far the largest buildings in each town. The limit should reflect the capacity of those building. The limit should be in proportion to ability of people to maintain good social distancing,” he said.
Mr Toibín pointed out that “there isn’t just the spiritual aspect of weekly worship that people are missing, it’s also the community spirit.
“Weekly religious service is for many a social occasion where the community can make sure everyone is in good health in mind and body. This is especially true for minority churches of recent immigrants. I have met with some of these churches. They offer much support to new the Irish who are far away from the normal supports of their home countries,” according to Mr Toibín.
He recounted a conversation with a 93-year-old woman where she said: “if I cannot go to Mass, that’ll be the finishing of me!”
He said that “what she was referring to was the physical routine of getting up and dressed on Sunday and making the effort of going to Mass, where she can pray and meet her friends.
“This frail lady is fearful that if she doesn’t get back into her routine again of getting up and dressed and physically leaving the house every Sunday, her health may deteriorate.
“I would call on the government to re-evaluate the situation and to use some common sense,” he said.
The Taoiseach announced the 50-person limit on Friday evening – a decision described by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin as “strange and disappointing”.
Leo Varadkar said that he would ask the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to discuss the issue.
Churches on both sides of the border are scheduled to re-open for public worship on June 29.