Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Covid-19 Vaccination Programme: Statements

 

10:30 am

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)

As of last Thursday, 25 March, just over 211,000 people, about 4% of the population, have been fully vaccinated. Most of these are older people over the age of 80 years, and front-line health workers. I want to discuss what this means for ordinary people who have been fully vaccinated but first I want to address events which occurred yesterday near Our Lady of Lourdes church in Mullahoran, County Cavan. It appears the local parish priest has been levied with a €500 fine by the gardaí for saying mass. Yesterday, The Irish Timesreported that gardaí established checkpoints nearby, effectively, to challenge locals about approaching the church. I have no problem with gardaí asking people where they are going as long it is clear as to what is lawful, what is unlawful and what is just a matter of public health guidelines. Challenging people and levying fines in circumstances where there is doubt about what the law provides for, takes one into the area of harassment. It reminds me of what used to happen behind the Iron Curtain before 1989-1990. It is extremely important that our gardaí do not go one iota further than what the law provides for. I raise this issue because it happened at the end of a week during which the Government has refused to say whether or not it is an offence to say mass, to cause a mass to be organised, to organise mass or, indeed, to attend one. I raised this issue in the House on Friday. I and others have struggled to get the Government to be clear about what is against the law and, although important, what is just a matter of public health guidelines.

The Minister knows that people, such as Professor Oran Doyle, have been very critical about what the professor has called "a masterpiece of misdirection" where the State has been appearing to let on that certain things are against the law when they may not be. I also note The Irish Catholicreported yesterday that in the course of its defence of proceedings in the High Court, the Government had stated that it is, in fact, an offence to celebrate mass. The Minister, Deputy Donnelly, told the Dáil last October that "religious services are non-penal in that there is no penalty attached to them" and yet we have a priest being slapped with a €500 fine.

There is no hostility here. This is Holy Week and Easter, which is a very important time for many people. People understand and they want to be part of the national effort. They do not want to be patronised. They want to be levelled with. I want the Minister to say which version of events is correct. Is it the one he gave in the Dáil saying it was not a penal offence or the apparent position being now taken by the State? We are talking about two regulations here. Regulation 4 makes it a criminal offence to leave one’s place of residence without a reasonable excuse. There is a non-exhaustive list given there. Regulation 8 prohibits and makes it a criminal offence for a person to organise a relevant event. I am happy to give way to the Minister now because I would like him to answer and to bring the necessary clarity to that. I would be very grateful if he would. Has the Minister any interest in answering this? I am happy to give way to him, if he wants to answer that question now.

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