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Government U-Turn on 50 Person Church Limit

Irish Catholic editor Michael Kelly reports that the Government has reversed plans to exempt churches from the 50 person limit on indoor gatherings.

On Thursday, outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that churches would be exempted, saying that specific protocols would be worked out to take account of the size of churches and other places of worship. 

Mr Varadkar’s position was widely welcomed, and preparations were made for re-opening for Mass on Monday.

Government indecision on the issue will cause significant dismay and frustration in parishes that have been working hard to re-open for Mass in a safe and responsible way.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin had described the government stance as “strange” and “disappointing”

Writing in the Irish Catholic Friday, Editor Micheal Kelly reports that the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach Martin Fraser requested a meeting with Church leaders on Friday. 

According to Mr Kelly, during the course of the meeting, Mr Fraser said that the Chief Medical Office Dr Tony Holohan had reservations about the decision of the Cabinet to give an exemption for places of worship.

He said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) was “strongly against” making the exemption for churches according to a note seen by the Irish Catholic paper.

The Irish Catholic reports that the committee had specific concerns in relation to churches including “the problem of access and exit from churches and especially in car parks”. 

The committee also referred to examples from overseas where outbreaks occurred around church gatherings. The issue of congregational singing was also raised as an issue despite the fact that the directives from the hierarchy said this should not happen at Mass for the time being.

The hierarchy was informed that the recommendation remains that no more than 50 people should gather for Mass.

A senior bishop told the Irish Catholic  that there was “frustration bordering of the exasperation that the Government seems unable to be on the same page on this issue”.

“Many of our churches can hold more than a thousand people,” he said, “and yet the approach seems to be that we must return again to a limit of 50,” he said.

Mr Varadkar is due to be replaced as Taoiseach by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on Saturday.