A bishop has said there is "some unwillingness or inability" to value religion in Ireland as churches remain shut for regular services. He was one of two leaders of Christian churches to tell the Sunday Independent of a need to return to regular worship as soon as possible, along with the need to continue fighting the spread of Covid-19.
I share the pain of many in Ireland at present as public worship is still not permitted," Catholic Bishop of Ferns, Denis Brennan, said.
"I'm very conscious of the need for everybody to do their utmost to arrest the spread of the virus and welcome the efforts of all who are pursuing same.
"There does seem to be some unwillingness or inability in Ireland to appreciate the value of religion or spirituality at present. I think this reality is worthy of attention and reflection at this time.
"I look forward to when we can return to worship as soon as possible."
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, said: "All attempts to bring us back to normal gathering I would welcome, and I would say all the people for whom I have care and responsibility for would welcome it too. But we need to be cautious for the vulnerable and for ourselves."
Archbishop Jackson said Easter is a time when people are convivial, but there is a great danger of another wave of Covid. All generations must be careful and "we in the church need to be likewise", he added.
He spoke of how church members had to embrace technology for virtual worship, which had the positive result of attracting people to join in services who may not have been able to visit a church. It also enables Irish people abroad to join in services in Ireland, including leading prayers and reading scripture.
But with people unable to gather together for Easter worship, he added: "It is a tough time for everybody and I stand in solidarity with all Christian traditions in the country in saying that it is not the same."
Funerals under the current restrictions were particularly tough as the bereaved were deprived of "the warmth of humanity".
Referring to the grief-stricken, he said: "What people want to do is to be touched, they want to be embraced, to put their head on your shoulder. These restraints are terribly difficult on the young."
He acknowledged that the Department of the Taoiseach offered regular meetings to the leaders of Christian churches and other faiths. He said they listened to the views expressed and made decisions based on public health facts, adding "they want us to flourish".
Attendance limits at funerals will rise from 10 to 25 on April 26. No date has been set for the resumption of regular worship.
Special Education and Inclusion Minister Josepha Madigan said there is "confusion" about the legal status of restrictions on religious practice, with legal arguments on both sides, and clarity is needed.
"We are out of step in Ireland compared to the rest of Europe in having a total ban on religious gatherings. Faith cannot be dismissed as a hobby. It's a really important source of solace and support for people of all ages, especially older people. For me, spiritual health is as important as mental health," she said.