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Church News

Ireland: only country in Western Europe to still have a blanket ban on in-person worship

by Kelly Valencia

Churches in Ireland have been unable to hold in-person services for over a year now. 

Under current Irish coronavirus regulations, places of worship are only allowed to open for weddings and funerals as the country remains in its highest level of restrictions. 

But in recent weeks, faith leaders have been defying the rules and facing being issued a fine of just over £2,000 or six months of imprisonment for holding services in their buildings. 

Last Sunday, pastor of Abundant Grace Christian Assembly in Ringsend in Dublin, Sharon Perry, was issued a prosecution notice after holding an Easter Sunday service of 25 people. 

Lórcan Price, legal consultant for Christian charity ADF international, told Premier churchgoers feel their right to practice religion is not being prioritised. 

"The attitude to freedom of religion is the thing that's causing the most concern because it seems that it is an afterthought, and a very low-level consideration for the Government."

In other Western European countries where a blanket ban on public worship was initially introduced, such as Germany, Switzerland or France, restrictions have already been lifted. In Scotland last month, the High Court ruled that the ban on public worship had been disproportionate. 

Catholic businessman Declan Ganley initiated a High Court challenge against the rules in Ireland last November, arguing that the current restrictions breach his right to practice religion. In response, the Government has so far clarified that, under the current restrictions, it is a criminal offence for a church leader to conduct a service unless it is for a wedding or a funeral. 

Speaking about the case, Price said that he believed it might change the situation but was "very slowly moving along". 

"As it stands, the Government has shown no inclination whatsoever to look at other European jurisdictions and to copy what they've done in allowing safe worship to happen," he continued. 

When asked how Christians can best be praying for Ireland at this time, Price said: "Pray for courage on the part of the people taking the case and the legal team, and then wisdom and discernment for the judges who have an important decision to make, obviously, to balance the human rights issues.

"And of course for the Irish government and the authorities that they would not set their face against the possibility of allowing reasonable accommodations to be made for religious people."

A new development in the case is expected on 13th April. 

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