For God's sake | 

Couple will choose jail over paying €300 fine for travelling 70km to Mass during lockdown

"I have no intention of paying them a fine for me going to Mass - for doing what I have done my whole life."

Jim and Ann Ryan

Patrick O'Connell

A CATHOLIC couple say they will go to jail rather than pay a €300 fine for travelling 70km to attend Mass during lockdown.

Retired firefighter Jim Ryan (64) and his wife Ann (59), a retired nurse, found themselves in court for the first time in their lives earlier this month on a summons for breaching the 5km limit on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021.

The couple were convicted of the offence by Judge Raymond Finnegan at Cavan District Court but immediately appealed - and have now vowed to go to jail if they cannot get it overturned.

"I will go to jail before I pay it. I would rather go to jail, without a shadow of a doubt," Jim told the Sunday World this week.

"I have no intention of paying them a fine for me going to Mass - for doing what I have done my whole life."

Jim and Ann Ryan who were both fined €300 for breaching the 5km non essential travel Covid law when they attended a Palm Sunday mass in Cavan in 2021.

Jim and Ann have become an unlikely poster couple advocating for religious freedom in the Republic of Ireland.

Living in a comfortable stone cottage bordering a railway line in Donamon, Roscommon, they describe themselves as 'average Joes'.

"We're 64 and 59 years old," said Ann, "have never had any convictions, are quiet-living people and are not affiliated to any organisations.

"We're just two very average, ordinary people who have worked hard our whole lives.

"I worked as a nurse and Jim worked in the Fire Brigade.

"We raised a nice family.

"We're not out there shouting with placards or anything like that and we were not out at any golf dinners either.

"We're just ordinary Joe Soaps - but with one difference, we honour God and we believe in God."

Jim and Ann Ryan's home

The first year of the pandemic was difficult for the couple, who say being a practicing Catholic involves regular attendance at Mass and in particular on Sundays.

"On one occasion, we went to a church near here and we actually got thrown out," said Jim.

"The priest was filming a Mass to put on Facebook and when we saw it was on we went in.

"But, the priest came down to me and said we had to get out of the church.

"For the sake of keeping the peace, I left the church, but that was the state we were in."

Jim and Ann Ryan speaking with SW's Patrick O' Connell

In March 2021, a row was brewing in Mullahoran Co. Cavan, 70kms away, where Fr. PJ Hughes was refusing to comply with the Level 5 restriction which closed places of worship.

"I will exercise my constitutional right even though people are complaining, even though I am not obeying my bishop when I go against his advice," Fr. Hughes said as he announced he would continue to celebrate Mass.

That announcement, coming in advance of Easter week, brought with it media attention.

And on Palm Sunday, a number of garda checkpoints were erected on roads leading to the church.

"We read online that Fr Hughes was saying Mass at Mullahoran church and that he was going to turn no-one away," recalled Jim.

"This was Psalm Sunday … the day Jesus rode into Nazareth on a donkey knowing the terrible torture and death he was facing and He kept going for our sins.

"Going to Mass that Sunday was extremely important to us.

"Ann had just gone through a life-saving medical procedure and we wanted to say thank you to God."

Jim and Ann Ryan who were both fined 300 euro for breaching the 5km non essential travel restriction

Asked why he felt it was okay to breach the restriction, Jim said he believed the restriction was unlawful.

"Article 44 of the Constitution says that we have the right to practice our religion in public," he said.

"It also says in Article 15 that the Dáil cannot impose a law that goes against the Constitution - and this law did!"

Asked for her reason - when so many others obeyed the restriction on travel - why she disregarded it, Ann says it is a fair question.

"I decided on that morning that I was going to honour one of the 10 Commandments," she replies, "which was to honour the Sabbath Day.

"On the balance of things, God's law was more important to me than Man's.

"Man's law is fallible. God's is not."

Approaching the church that morning, the couple encountered two checkpoints.

They passed through the first checkpoint before being stopped at the second checkpoint at 11.10 am and speaking with Garda Barry Mulligan.

In his evidence to the court, Jim claimed Gda Mulligan told him and his wife to "keep away" and that there was a "problem" at the church.

In his evidence, Gda Mulligan said he had advised the Ryans he was issuing a Fixed Charge Penalty Notice for being 5km from their home.

Jim told the Sunday World that after speaking with Gda Mulligan he initially pulled onto a road to the right, believing the church to be off to the left, but somehow ended up arriving at the back of Our Lady of Lourdes.

"So, we went in and we got the Mass," he said.

"There was about 20 people inside and it was an absolutely beautiful Mass and when we came out, the guards were waiting for us.

"They had pulled up in the car park and sat across from us.

"They never said a word and they didn't go into the church where this great crime was being committed.

"But they took all the registration numbers and, I'd say afterwards, they contacted the different checkpoints and gave them the list of the cars."

Jim's evidence before Cavan District Court saw him launch an impassioned defence of his religion.

"Catholic lives matter," he insisted.

Judge Finnegan responded that he "wholeheartedly" agreed with the sentiment but it did not absolve the couple from the fact they had broken the law.

He fined them both €300, giving them three months to pay.

"You are not a judge," Jim retorted as he stepped down from the witness stand.

"Jesus would be ashamed of you!"

Within hours of the fine being handed down, Jim and Ann filed notice of their appeal with the court.

Asked what he hopes will happen at the Court of Appeal, Jim said: "My hope is the judge will recognise the fact the Government went against the Constitution and throw this law out.

"What I think will happen is that we will be told everything we say is irrelevant and the fine will stand.

"And, if that happens, I'm not going to pay it. I'd rather go to jail.

"But I can only speak for myself."

Ann nods her head in agreement.

"If that happens, we'll have to get a babysitter for the dog and our hens. Because I'm not paying it either."

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