The Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin and the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly have met to discuss the publication of a Statutory Instrument which affects public worship.

It could see people receive a fine of €127 or up to six months in prison for attending specified events.

Archbishop Martin told Minister Donnelly there were concerns expressed with regard to the criminalising of leading, and gathering for, public worship at this time in Ireland despite the consistent support from the churches for public health messaging since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to a statement issued by the Catholic Communications Office, he reiterated the church's support for the protection of health, life and for the common good and he emphasised the importance of respecting and sustaining people’s spiritual well-being alongside their physical and mental health. For people of faith, he added, this is deemed essential.

Mr Donnelly had what has been described as a "good meeting" with Archbishop Martin and Monsignor Joseph McGuinness.

Stephen Donnelly

A spokesperson said Mr Donnelly outlined that the reason for the Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings were on public health grounds, but he also understood the importance of worship for people.

Mr Donnelly was joined at the meeting by Dr Colette Bonner from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer.

He said that religious worship and spiritual well-being were taken very seriously by the Government and consideration would be given to early re-opening of public worship in accordance with public health advice in the coming weeks.

The church is continuing to seek clarification and legal advice regarding the extent and implications of the Statutory Instrument.

The statement said that the Archbishop emphasised that the vital pastoral work of priests and other ministers on the ground should also be respected and deemed essential, rather than subject to penal sanction.

He also stressed the importance of regular and meaningful conversation and consultation between church, State and public health advisers to ensure that there is mutual understanding and positive cooperation in supporting life and health during times like the Covid-19 crisis.

The Archbishop said that he will meet with the other Archbishops to brief them on the meeting.

It is expected that the Minister will have ongoing dialogue with church leaders in the time ahead.

Additional reporting: Paul Cunningham