The Government has been called on to clarify whether church weddings and baptism ceremonies can proceed with small numbers under phase one of Covid-19 restrictions.
Fr John Carroll, Ferns diocesan secretary and communications officer in Co Wexford, said there appeared to be disconnect between Government regulations and their interpretation by the Garda.
A clear directive to solemnisers now would ensure ceremonies in all churches complied with regulations, Fr Carroll suggested. It would also help to address “a lot of anxiety” among people seeking ceremonies, he said.
Churches in the Ferns diocese have remained open during the coronavirus, and a small number of ceremonies had been taking place, he said.
“Some 95% of weddings were postponed, but there were a couple of cases where religious ceremonies were requested, along with baptisms, and these took place with numbers under ten as per the instruction for funerals,” he said.
However, last week the bishop’s office was contacted by gardai over concerns about a wedding involving members of the Travelling community in Bunclody, Co Wexford.
“As I understand it, that wedding had been postponed already several times, and the priest had made an agreement that there would be under ten people in attendance, but the gardaí then stepped in and stopped it,” Fr Carroll said.
“I’d be concerned we are making rules for one section of the community which is unfair to another, and this is a human rights issue,” he said.
“If there is clarity from Government, we know where we stand,” he said. “We don’t proceed until couples have permission from the State, but we also don’t want to be making a law where one doesn’t exist,” he said.
Minister for Health Simon Harris told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland on Monday (May 18) that the Government would be working on more detailed guidance about weddings over the next few weeks.
The Garda Press Office said that the Government road map on easing restrictions “envisages the opening of religious and places of worship where social distancing can be maintained during phase four”.
Phase four may be implemented from July 20. Larger gatherings, also with social distancing, may be permitted from phase five, provisionally scheduled for August 10.
Asked to comment in relation to the Bunclody wedding, the Garda Press Office said that section 31 (a) of the 1947 Health Act provides for a “graduated policing response”.
It said this response had been adopted in supporting the Covid-19 public health guidelines and regulations, based on its tradition of policing by consent.
“This has seen Garda members engage, educate, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce,” it said.
In Britain, a petition is calling on the Government to put a stop to weddings to enable couples who were due to be married to file insurance claims.