A politician’s question to the Minister for Health, asking whether it is an offence to organise public Mass, was ‘disallowed’ by the Ceann Comhairle.
Carol Nolan TD of the Laois-Offaly constituency attempted to put the question to Minister Stephen Donnelly.
She asked: “To ask the Minister for Health if it is an offence to organise public Mass or any other form of public religious worship at which members of the public attend in view of a recent report published by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission which found that no such offence exists (details supplied); if this is not an offence at present, the reason An Garda Siochána has issued fixed penalty notices to members of the Catholic clergy for organising public Mass; the authority under which they have done same; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD, stated in his reply that the question was disallowed as the matter is before the courts and is “subjudice under Standing Order 69”.
“In addition, the question is requiring the Minister to provide an interpretation of the law which is not in order as per Salient Rulings 696 and 697 of the Chair which states: ‘696. Minister may not be asked to express an opinion on or to decide a matter of law – ’ and ‘697. Questions requiring a member of the Government to interpret the law are not in order,’” he wrote.
Mr Stephen Donnelly stated in the Dáil in October 2020, and the Department of Health confirmed to this paper in November, that celebrating public Mass is not a penal offence.
Politicians have continuously been calling for clarity on the Department of Health’s Covid legislation as this paper revealed that under the legislation priests are in fact facing a penal offence for celebrating public Mass.
This was confirmed in correspondence from the State to Declan Ganley, who is taking a High Court challenge against the ban on public religious worship. Under the legislation it is an offence for a priest to leave his home to celebrate Mass at which a congregation can be present unless this is a funeral or a wedding, then up to ten people can be present. However, from April 26 up to 25 can attend a funeral.
It is likewise an offence for a parishioner to leave their home with the intention of attending Mass.