Garda stage checkpoints to deter church protest

The protest planned for Mullahoran this morning (Sunday, March 28) was to be similar in nature to an event staged outside St Mel's Cathedral in Longford last November.

A strong garda presence has been mounted in the Mullahoran area this morning, with several checkpoints established as gardai attempt to deter those behind a planned protest at the local church.

The protest planned for outside of Our Lady of Lourdes Church is understood to have been organised on social media in recent days by alleged anti-atheist groups.

Their proposed actions are in support of the stance taken by local parish priest Fr PJ Hughes to continuing stage masses and not turn away parishioners if they so wish to attend.

Fr Hughes insists he will not turn people away from their local church.

More than a dozen members of the force have been deployed to the area this morning (Sunday, March 28) where they are engaged in blocking all roads on approach to Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Officers have been there since before scheduled Sunday Mass began. It is not known whether any of the protestors were successful in making their way to the church.

Despite repeated warnings from gardai and advice over breaches of Covid regulations from his bishop, Bawnboy native Francis Duffy, Fr Hughes insists he will not turn people away from their local church.

Earlier this month the cleric was slapped with the €500 fine after allowing parishioners attend Mass despite being on his “last warning” for breaching public health regulations.

Gardai stopping cars and checking with drivers at Mullahoran GAA football pitch.

Around 40 people attended on March 7, after which Fr Hughes received the fine notice by post on March 18, the day after St Patrick’s Day.

The protest planned for Mullahoran this morning (Sunday, March 28) was to be similar in nature to an event staged outside St Mel's Cathedral in Longford last November.

A small group of people held a protest outside the landmark church, again in support of Fr PJ Hughes after The Anglo-Celt first reported the priest had been warned by gardai about saying mass with parishioners present.

The outspoken Fr Hughes, who first expressed his frustration at the prohibition of public masses during Level Five restrictions with this newspaper last year, is particularly aggrieved by the continued restrictions in light of Holy Week and Easter approaching.

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“I think it’s crazy because we have a situation where the Government and NPHET are now playing God. I mean, they’ve abandoned God!” he said.

A native of a Athlone, Fr Hughes served as Missionary priest in Ecuador, before returning to Ireland. He relocated from the Leamonaghan parish in Offaly to become parish priest in Mullahoran in August 2019.

After Mass in Mullahoran concluded, gardai drafted into stage checkpoints departed the area.

An Garda Siochana has been contacted directly for comment in relation to this morning's operation.

See next week's Anglo-Celt newspaper for full report.

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