UPDATE: Garda statement after church protest blockade

Officers arrived in the area before the scheduled Sunday Mass began, and left after it concluded.

Gardaí have issued a statement following an operation aimed at blocking a protest gathering outside a church in the Mullahoran area earlier today.

More than a dozen members of the force were dispatched to the area this morning (Sunday, March 28) where they are engaged in stopping traffic on all roads on approach to Our Lady of Lourdes Church following reports an anti-atheist protest was to be staged outside.

The event is understood to have been on social media in recent days, and would have been similar in nature to an event staged outside St Mel's Cathedral in Longford last November.

In both cases, those behind the planned protest are said to be 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.

The start of Sunday Mass was delayed by up to 20 minutes today.

Fr PJ Hughes says he will not turn away parishioners if they so wish to attend.

Officers arrived in the area before the scheduled Sunday Mass began, and left after it concluded.

The vast majority of the persons who attended the Sunday Mass in Mullahoran this morning were those travelling from outside the county and the designated 5km.

Its understood that several attendees travelled from as far afield as Leitrim and Roscommon to be there.

A number of on the spot fines were issued to those in breach of current health regulations, The Anglo-Celt can confirm.

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.

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.

“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!” said Fr Hughes, speaking to The Anglo-Celt last week.

More than a dozen members of the force were dispatched to the area this morning (Sunday, March 28) where they are engaged in blocking all roads on approach to Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

He is particularly aggrieved by the continued restrictions in light of Holy Week and Easter approaching, and has openly expressed his frustration at the prohibition of public masses during Level Five restrictions.

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.

In a statement issued to this newspaper, An Garda Siochana confirmed that they were “aware” of a religious service taking place where they “engaged with those present”.

Noting the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No.10) Regulations 2020, as amended, that are currently in force, they said: “In supporting the COVID-19 public health guidelines and regulations, An Garda Síochána has and will continue to adopt, a graduated policing response based on its tradition of policing by consent. This has seen Gardaí engage, educate, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce.

“Where Gardaí identify potential breaches of the public health regulations a file is prepared for the DPP in each case or a Fixed Payment Notice is issued where appropriate.”

The garda spokesperson added: “The COVID-19 Pandemic remains a public health crisis and An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to all citizens to demonstrate personal and social responsibility to comply with Public Health Guidelines and Regulations, in particular essential journeys, in order to continue to save lives.”

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

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