Gardaí stop Mass service in Athlone after 'up to 60 people' gather in church

Gardaí stop Mass service in Athlone after 'up to 60 people' gather in church

UP TO 60 people who attended an in-person Mass service in Athlone will not be fined after they were found to be in breach of coronavirus restrictions, Gardaí have confirmed.

Last weekend, between 50 and 60 people were found to be attending Mass in the Corpus Christi church in Athlone, County Westmeath, according to local reports.

Garda officers entered the building and advised those present to leave after receiving a report that Covid-19 restrictions were being breached in the church.

Video footage of the moment police told the priest and attendees to leave has been widely circulated on social media, and while one clip shows a man arguing briefly with an officer, a Garda statement says all those in attendance were 'hugely compliant' and left when ordered.

A statement from An Garda Síochána, seen by local radio outlet Midlands103, confirmed that a gathering took place and was stopped, but that as a rule they do not comment on material, including video footage, published online by third parties.

"We can confirm that Gardaí attended the scene of an event that took place on Sunday 18th April, 2021 at Athlone, Co. Westmeath at 10.15am," the Garda statement reads.

"Gardaí engaged with those present and all persons complied with direction from Gardaí."

They added: "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."

While Gardaí attended the scene, they did not issue any fines to those present.

One man, Pat, who has attended mass in the church for three weeks in a row, told the radio station he was "outraged" that the Gardaí entered the church but that he followed directions and left the scene out of respect for the priest.

Despite recent loosening of some restrictions, such as children returning to school and people allowed to travel within their counties, Ireland remains in Level 5 lockdown and all church services should be streamed online with no in-person gatherings allowed.