AN IRISH priest who has been fined €500 for repeatedly saying mass in a church with people present says he will not stop exercising his 'constitutional right'.
Cavan priest Father PJ Hughes was issued a fixed penalty notice of €500 by Gardaí after he continued to say in-person mass in his parish of Mullahoran despite Level 5 restrictions demanding all church services must be moved online, with exceptions for funerals and weddings and for private prayer.
Fr Hughes wrote in the Mullahoran & Loughduff Parish newsletter this week stating that he had been "reported again" and had been issued a fine by Gardaí, but said he would continue to say mass as people are committing "a grave mistake" by following government rules on not attending church.
Writing ahead of the Holy Week marking the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter, Fr Hughes wrote that it is "hard to believe that for a second year people cannot come to take part in the ceremonies of Holy Week".
He condemned the fact that mass had been banned and the church designated a 'hot spot' for catching the virus "despite the size of the church and the holy place that it is".
"The majority of people are healthy and able to go shopping, bring their children to school and may are working in enclosed environments", he continued, stating that if people are able to do these things they should also be allowed to attend mass.
"We are committing a grave mistake by rejecting our Lord and God Jesus Christ by staying away because government officials say we must.
"I do not accept and will not accept this demand by people who do not realize the wrong they are doing."
Fr Hughes went on to say it was his and others "constitutional right" to protest and "practice or faith and assemble to pray together".
He urged those who were afraid of the virus to stay at home i f they wish, but "I will exercise my constitutional right" despite going against the wishes of the Bishop and despite being reported by people to the police.
He added, "We can't just reject Jesus in the Holy Eucharist."
Fr Hughes has received messages of support from those in his parish, with some calling for other members of the clergy to stand up and do the same.
The government are currently in talks about the potential easing of some restrictions from 5 April, however the number of daily confirmed cases, static for over a week around the 500 mark, are now on the rise again.
Yesterday evening, a further 769 new cases of the virus were identified in Ireland-- the highest figure since 26 February.