Billy Kennedy: Churches were closed due to Covid, but those in power partied
Many church and faith people in Northern Ireland, and, indeed, in other parts of the United Kingdom, will have been looking aghast this week at the serious breaches of covid pandemic protocol in the higher echelons of government at Westminster.
This happened when lock-down restrictions prevented churchgoers from attending their places of worship.
The May 20, 2020 party in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London attended by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his senior staff happened at a time when churches across the nation were closed for services and prayerful contemplation.
In retrospect, we should be reminded that from March 18, 2020 the instruction, both from Her Majesty’s government in London and the devolved legislatures in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, was that all congregational organisations and activities connected with churches, including Sunday worship, should cease until further notice.
In June that year, the Northern Ireland Executive said it was looking at easing restrictions, which could lead to the re-opening of churches. This meant that Sunday July 5 would be the first Sunday churches could gather in person since they last did on Sunday March 15.
Later, in the light of advice that Northern Ireland church leaders and other faith leaders received from the Northern Ireland chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and the chief scientific advisor Professor Ian Young, regarding the worsening Coronavirus situation in January 2021, the churches were compelled to advise their flocks that all in-person Sunday gatherings for worship, along with church gatherings, would cease once more. This meant that churches were closed again from Sunday January 10 and did not re-open until Easter Sunday of that year.
The church closures in the first period (March-July 2020) came by legislative decree from the Stormont Executive, but the 2021 closures were voluntarily decided upon by an inter-church forum, set up largely through the influence of former DUP First Minister Arlene Foster, a regular Church of Ireland attendee.
A damning feature of church closures in Northern Ireland due to the pandemic was that one could enter an off-licence to purchase alcohol, but worshippers were not allowed into their buildings for services and prayer sessions.
Churches in England, Scotland and Wales experienced much the same closure fate as denominations in Northern Ireland, but, clearly in the light of deliberate breaches that have now emerged within the corridors of power in London, no empathy or consideration was shown to a highly significant section of the UK population who were denied a most fundamental and engaging aspect of their lives - the right to worship in churches of their choosing.
In information now brought to light, an organised and frivolous “bring your own booze” party in the garden of 10 Downing Street and other social shenanagins that went on under the watch of our culpable and shambolic Prime Minister contrasted sharply with the unprecedented and unedifying spectacle of church doors being locked to worshippers across the nation at the time.
The moral compass (a standard set of values and objectives that guide a person with regard to ethical behaviour and decision) of those responsible for these breaches evidently count for nothing and the central administration which binds our great British nation together has been irresponsibly and unnecessarily placed into disarray.
Government oversight of our cherished institutions most certainly deserves better leadership than what we are getting on the values and objectives that guide our nation. Our Prime Minister must look at his own moral compass and carefully reflect.
•Strangford DUP MP Jim Shannon, in a highly emotional contribution in the House of Commons on Tuesday about the grief he had personally experienced during the pandemic lock-down from the death of his mother-in-law, illustrated the feelings of so many millions of people who were forced to obey the official strictures placed on them by government because of the pandemic. Jim, a faithful member of Newtownards Baptist church, plays a leading part with other MPs from various parties at Westminster on matters of the Christian faith, both at UK domestic and global levels and he maintains an ever-present role in the parliamentary debates.
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