A Dublin priest has been ordered by gardaí to stop administering Holy Communion because it was a breach of COVID protocols.

However, the priest says depriving parishioners of the Eucharist could have a "mental health cost."

Fr Binoy Matthew, a parish priest at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Huntstown, told the Independent he had given communion to up to 150 parishioners every week throughout the pandemic following online mass until he was ordered to halt the ritual by police.

Fr Matthew said that anyone receiving communion adhered strictly to sanitizing and social distancing protocols and that parishioners came to the church over a two-hour period.

“They came through the main body of the church, received communion, and left through a side exit. There was no congregating,” he said.

“It was a way for us to stay in contact with our parishioners and offer them spiritual support.

“It is not as if the whole world was coming to us – it was a small group of people who carried out the correct sanitizing and protocols. They didn’t stay in the church for prayers or gather in groups.”

A garda spokesperson said they became aware of “an event involving organized activity taking place in a church."

He added: “This organized activity is no longer taking place."

COVID restrictions are likely to remain in place until after Easter. Even if Ireland moves to Level 3, public worship will still not be permitted.

Fr Matthew said: “You hear a lot about the mental health cost. This was something for a small group of people for whom receiving communion meant a lot. Every group is trying in some way to keep in contact with their core community – to care and look after them. We were trying to help our core group.

“You can have over a hundred people in a small supermarket or congregating in a queue for a takeaway coffee. But you cannot allow people to come individually to their parish to receive communion. It seems this is what the Government wants,” he said.