After walking 62 kilometers to the Dominican Provincial House in Tallaght on Saturday, priests and parishioners from the order’s church in Drogheda were turned away before they could hand in a petition calling for the cancellation of plans to close their church.

Even when they asked for a cup of tea for two elderly priests, one of whom was very ill, they were refused. A spokeswoman for the Save the Dominican campaign, Rita Hanratty, described their treatment as “absolutely disgraceful.”

So shocked was she by the treatment meted out to them that Hanratty has called on the prior and his close aides to step down.

When the 20 walkers, some of whom had walked the full 62 kilometers, arrived at the priory door it was opened by Father Gerard Norton, who told them that the prior Father Greg Carrol, was not in. When asked to check because they had an appointment, Norton said that Carrol was not expecting them.

When I showed him a letter with details of the appointment he changed his mind” Hanratty said. “He said that Father Greg had told him to collect any ’scraps of paper’ they might have for him.

“I thought that was the biggest insult they could give us. The cheek of them to call the 22,000 petition signatures ‘scraps of paper! I was incensed.

“But the highest insult was to Father Jim Dunleavy whose diabetes started playing up and he took a bit of a turn. I asked for cup of tea for him and they said no.

“I asked again could I have a cup of tea for Father Joe who is 83 years of age, and Father Jim who is 78 and had cancer surgery in December. I was told that they had no milk, tea or sugar in the house and he wouldn’t let us in. People were crying.

“I turned back to [Norton] and I said you are a disgrace to the habit you are wearing and he looked at me as though I was dirt. St. Dominic is turning in his grave I said. He wasn’t impressed.”

Asked what their next move would be, Hanratty said they were going to continue the campaign and she called for Carrol and the council to step down.

One of the walkers was Senator Mary Moran who today issued a statement calling on the order to communicate with parishioners.

“Our walk was made with positivity and hope” she said. “On our arrival however, we received negativity and disdain. It was heartbreaking to watch the elderly priests and parishioners be withered with a callous response, some of whom who were visibly upset.”