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Defiant priest says he supports couple facing jail for attending lockdown mass

Fr PJ Hughes insists he, himself, won't pay fine of €500 he was issued and state needs to exercise "a bit of cop on"

Fr PJ Hughes says he won’t be paying a €500 fine for celebrating Mass

Patrick O'Connell

A priest who celebrated a Mass during lockdown, over which a retired couple now risk imprisonment for attending, said he fully supports their decision not to pay their fines.

Catholic couple Jim Ryan (64) and his wife Ann (59) revealed last week they will both go to jail rather than pay fines of €300 for travelling 70km to attend Mass at Mullahoran Church, Co. Cavan, on Palm Sunday.

Speaking about their case for the first time, Fr PJ Hughes, who celebrated the Mass:

  • Said he believes the couple are in the right not to pay the fine;
  • Accused gardai and the courts of 'favouritism' in deciding who is and isn't pursued over alleged lockdown breaches;
  • Insisted he, himself, won't pay a fine of €500 he was issued by gardai for saying Mass; and
  • Called on the state to "show a bit of cop on" before continuing along the road of prosecuting those who attended religious services.

"I have spoken to Jim and Ann," he said.

"And I honestly can't understand why they have been dragged before a court and harassed in the way they are.

"I do support them in not paying the fine.

"I don't think they should pay the fine. I don't think they're guilty."

Ann and Jim Ryan face jail if they don’t pay a €300 fine for attending Mass during lockdown

Fr Hughes said, by comparison, some high-profile individuals were meted out very different treatment by gardai and the courts.

"It was ok for the people down in Galway to have their dinner for the golf and there was over 80 at that," he said.

"And that was thrown out of court.

"And then, of course, RTE had their party for the girl who was retiring up there.

"And they were told they were bold boys and girls and to go home and don't do it anymore.

"Obviously, we're not all equal in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the gardai."

Fr Hughes confirmed he was issued with a €500 fine following a Sunday Mass he celebrated on March 7, 2021, in Mullahoran.

He said, like Jim and Ann Ryan, he has no intention of paying this fine.

"I won't pay the fine. Why should I?" he asked. "I didn't break the law. I didn't go out and tell people to come into the church.

"They came in themselves.

"I left the church open and I celebrated Mass all the time.

"Now the church is big enough, it could hold 400 people, but there were only ever at most 50 people in it and they weren't beside each other.

"They didn't come here to spread the virus. They came here to pray because they couldn't go to their local church."

How we broke the story

Asked what he feels should now happen in cases such as Jim and Ann Ryan, Fr Hughes said the state needs to exercise "a bit of cop on".

"Jim and Ann Ryan took on the establishment and they are not going to win because that is the way the establishment treats you," he said.

"I think somebody in a position needs to cop on and talk to the judges and say: 'Look, let this couple go … leave them alone … they've been harassed enough."

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