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Northern Irish politician asks for consistent approach to reopening shops and churches

by Cara Bentley

A member of the Northern Irish Assembly has suggested that churches are able to keep in line with social distancing rules and should be among the first things to reopen. 

Paul Givan, a member of the DUP representing Lagan valley in Northern Ireland, told Stormont earlier this week that many churches were bigger than the parliament they were meeting in and should therefore be allowed to reopen with all the limits that would need. 



In Northern Ireland, a place of worship may be used only for funerals, to broadcast an act of worship, to provide essential voluntary services such as food banks, support for the homeless or blood donation sessions. 

Speaking to Premier, Mr Givan said there needed to be consistency across different types of building usages: "In supermarkets you're having this social distancing taking place and you can have multiple numbers of people in a large building. Indeed, you've got off-licenses that are still open, we've got food takeaways that are open, all having to comply with the social distancing.

"So churches are starting to ask, where their buildings in some cases will be larger than some of the grocery stores that are open, they're saying that they can comply with social distancing, that they can carry out the kind of work that's needed to disinfect whenever people have sat in the pews or the chairs, and that that's something that they're able to manage.

"If supermarkets can do it, then churches believe that they could also do this and that should facilitate some kind of limited reopening. If people need to stagger church services to restrict the numbers coming into their buildings, I think that's something that needs to be given proper consideration."

Northern Ireland has already seen the reopening of cemeteries, something which was supported by the Presbyterian Church.

As of 29th April, there have been 338 deaths in Northern Ireland from Covid-19. As in England, measures are being reviewed every three weeks. 

Mr Givan, who is an evangelical Christian, said he raised the issue of churches in front of his political peers because he had received queries about it from constituents. He explained: "We're sitting in Parliament, we've got Westminster MPs that are sitting in London and social distancing is taking place. I have many churches in my own constituency that are much bigger that the Parliament chamber in Northern Ireland, and we're allowed around 20 members to be there. Those churches could easily accommodate many more than 20 and provide an excess of the two meters social distancing that's required. So, I do think there is an increasing case to be made and people are asking about the consistency and the rationale that's being adopted, which needs to be proportionate to the core objective, which is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic."

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