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Deputy Michael McNamara

Clare deputy pulls up minister over fining of priest

DEPUTY Michael McNamara has challenged Health Minister Stephen Donnelly over his previous commitment that no penalties would be imposed for conducting religious services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fr PJ Hughes, parish priest of Mullahoran and Loughduff in Co Cavan, has already received a €500 fine following a Sunday Mass he celebrated on March 7th last in Mullahoran.

Speaking in the Dáil recently, Deputy McNamara asked what does it mean when the minister says something in this House?

“If a Minister says something in a parliamentary democracy, we assume it to be true, if words have meaning. To borrow a quote, it is a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. What does the Minister mean when he says that 80% of people will be offered a vaccine by the end of June?”

The Independent Deputy asked this question in view of a statement made by Minister Donnelly on October 22 during a debate on the Health Amendment Bill.

“I assure the Deputy and other colleagues that with regard to penalties, religious services are non-penal in that there is no penalty attached to them.

“I signed the regulations last night and I assure Deputies that it is a non-penal provision and it will remain thus,” stated Minister Donnelly.

If it means that somebody can be fined, Deputy McNamara asked what does what the minister says in the House mean?

“Of course, we all make mistakes and we have the opportunity to correct the record of the House. If we say something untrue, we have the opportunity to correct if it we choose to, but if it is not untrue, what does what the Minister says mean? Doublethink is the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one mind simultaneously and believing both of them to be true, for example, freedom is slavery, war is peace or the healthy are sick.

Minister Donnelly said; “I am not entirely sure what the question is. If there is a specific question, I would very much like to answer it but at this point…”

Deputy McNamara reiterated if what the minister says is untrue and he does not correct the record, we assume it is true and truth becomes untruth.

“How do we understand when he says, for example, that we will have vaccinated 80% of people by the end of June? How are we to understand if he says that no penal provisions are attaching to religious services, but fines are handed out for religious services and the State adopts a position in the High Court asserting that religious services are covered by penal provisions? What do the Minister’s words mean?

Minister Donnelly didn’t respond to Deputy McNamara’s comments during this Dáil exchange.

Independent TD for Laois Offaly Carol Nolan has written to the Minister Donnelly asking him to correct the Dáil record.

Deputy Nolan said she had taken this step in light of the fact that Minister Donnelly had explicitly assured Oireachtas members in October that no such penal offence existed when questioned on the floor of the Dáil.

  • Dan Danaher

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