Irish churches exempted from 50 person limit during coronavirus reopening

Interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Credit: Sergey Olegovich/Shutterstock

Churches and other places of worship in Ireland will be permitted to open to more than 50 people, following a new exception to the country’s Phase Three coronavirus reopening. The exception was announced on Thursday evening.

Ireland’s Phase Three reopening sets a limit of 50 people for indoor gatherings, and 100 people for outdoor gatherings. In Phase Four, the indoor limit will be raised to 100. Ireland enters Phase Three on Monday.

On Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that houses of worship would not be subjected to the same “indoor gathering” rules, and would be permitted to police their own congregations in line with social distancing norms.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin had raised concerns about the feasibility of the 50-person limit, given the size of many Catholic churches in Ireland compared to the number of people who would wish to go to Mass. Retail locations in Ireland are not subjected to hard-number caps. Instead, they are instructed to ensure that people are practicing social distancing.

“It seems strange that in a church with a capacity of 1,500 people–which has been scrupulously fitted out for conformity with social distancing and with clear indications about movement and interaction of people within church–that only 50 people might be present, while we all see a situation in which large retail outlets (are) brimming with people,” said Martin earlier in June.

With the 50-person limit, Martin said, some parishes could only celebrate Mass with 1% of their congregations. He instead appealed for a “more reasonable and responsible” standard.

Had the capacity limit remained in place, it would have applied to all of Ireland’s churches, including those with capacities far beyond 50 people.

The Knock Basilica, which is one of the largest churches in Ireland, has a capacity of 10,000 people–yet would not have been permitted to host more than 50 people inside under the existing Phase Three restrictions.

Ireland has had about 25,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with 1,727 deaths attributed to the disease. The number of new cases discovered in the country each day has dwindled to the low double digits.

Approximately half of the country’s confirmed cases have been discovered in County Dublin. Only three counties, including Dublin have more than 1,000 confirmed cases.