A parish priest in Co Clare has barred homeless people from sleeping in Ennis Cathedral due to consistent problems with drinking, smoking and public urination.
Fr Tom Ryan returned to Ennis Parish in July after spending 26 years as a priest in Shannon.
However, upon his return he was shocked to learn that a small number of homeless people with addiction issues had been using the church grounds as a place to sleep.
They had also caused significant stress for parishioners by drinking, smoking and urinating both inside and outside the cathedral.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Fr Ryan said he was left with no option but to take a zero-tolerance approach.
"Sadly, their presence was a cause of great concern for many people, especially the elderly parishioners,” he said.
"Their heavy drinking had left many people feeling frightened, particularly those who use our adoration chapel at the night.
"While, I’m extremely sympathetic to people without a home, drinking and urinating inside a consecrated building is just not acceptable. It causes a great deal of strain having to clean up their mess the following day.
"I have a duty of care to all our parishioners. Some people may think it’s a harsh approach, but our church is a place of worship and needs to be respected.
"I know many of these people on a first name basis so if I found them to be problematic on our grounds I would respectfully ask them to leave. If they refused, I would be forced to call the guards."
The parish priest added that church services will not be affected as a result of incidents like these.
"Sadly, these are individuals with addictions. They’re not bad people by any means, but they need to avail of the homeless and addiction services available to them in Ennis.
"On St Stephen’s Day, members of the Polish community organised a Christmas meal for the homeless in our parish centre.
"We try to help them out in any way we can, but unfortunately our church is not a suitable environment for them to sleep."