Confusion between Gardai and Minister?
Does your paper have the resources to locate the section of criminal law of which the 25 people and/or the priest, who gathered for prayer at a private location last Sunday were in breach?
If a breach did not occur, as we suspect, is the person who called in the Gardai, guilty of harassment, or of some other misdemeanour?
Please note the statement by Minister Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health in Dail Eireann on 22nd October last year: “I assure the Deputy (Michael McNamara) and other colleagues that with regard to penalties, religious services are non-penal in that there is no penalty attached to them.”
Lockdown of Churches
The doors of most churches have been open for private prayer only during Level 5 restrictions. Some parishes have online services but not everybody is up to date with such technology or the quality of broadband.
We can meet strangers in shopping centres, banks, marts and post offices, yet we are unable to meet people who were part of our lives before the lockdown in churches, which are also public places.
When churches were open during the first part of the Government’s roadmap, individual parishes took great care to observe safety for worshippers with social distancing and contact information. There is no evidence to show Covid 19 outbreaks was spread by church going population in this region.
Just a few weeks ago, the Court of Session in Scotland ruled that government closure of houses of worship was unconstitutional and a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In essence, the court held that, while coronavirus restrictions are necessary, they must be proportionate.
Last November the French Courts overturned limits on religious worship, calling them disproportionate and a “manifestly illegal attack” on freedom of religion.
If we are to live under changeable restrictions in regards to Statutory Instruments for the foreseeable future, more exacting scrutiny by our elected representatives and judiciary is essential in ensuring that they are above all proportionate and allow people to attend religious services without fear of breaking the law.
Free car parking for hospital patients
All citizens should examine closely and with interest the HSE’s Annual Financial Statement, particularly in relation to the income generated by public hospitals from car parking charges. Based on figures obtained from the Office of the National Director Acute Strategy and Planning, revenue from car parking and clamping fees at our acute public hospitals fell by 56.75%. year on year between 2019 and 2020.
This was due to Lockdown and restrictions related to the threat of Covid-19. This represents a drop of income from €12+ million in 2019 to €5+ million in 2020. As hospital visits to in-patients had been largely abandoned in 2020, the latter figure represents closely the parking costs incurred by patients who were attending for “essential services”.
The above figures relate to 24 acute public hospitals as only 9 public hospitals nationally provide free parking.
Since 2012, hospitals across the country generated an income of a little less than €100 million from receipts for car parking and clamping fees. Prior to the last election, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour promised either to cap hospital parking fees, or to provide parking for free to patients. Since the government was formed none of these parties have sought to implement their promise in this regard.
It is, therefore, welcome news for hard pressed patients and their families that Aontú Party Leader Peadar Toibín TD has moved the Hospital Parking Bill 2021 in the Dáil in recent days. It will be interesting to see if the government parties, who promoted such a provision in their campaign promises, will support this bill.
In this constituency, it is worth noting that between 2014 and 2019 both visitors and patients paid a staggering €903,467 in car parking charges to Sligo University Hospital and the HSE. This is a considerable burden on our local citizens who also, in many instances, have to bear the cost of travelling a distance to access these services.
Moreover, given that all hospital services are not available to the citizens of the North West in Sligo University Hospital, many patients must travel to other hospitals such as Mullingar, Dublin or Galway, (the latter being the designated centre of excellence for cancer services).
Due to difficulties regarding public transport and its routing and scheduling, many patients in our area must rely on travelling to these services by car, thereby incurring considerable additional travelling costs. Not incurring car parking charges in any of these hospitals, as set out in Aontú’s Hospital Parking Bill 2021, would be a welcome, if small, relief to hard pressed patients.
Ciarán M Tracey,
Cumann Aontú Liatro