The chaplain to Castlerea Prison Deacon Seamus Talbot has been denied entry to the prison because of his refusal to shave off his beard.
The chaplain has been denied entry to the prison following an order from the prison governor that anybody accessing the prison must be clean-shaven. This order was issued as part of a health and safety review around prison conditions during the pandemic.
The Irish Prison Service has confirmed that a national policy that states, all prison-based staff must be clean-shaven when reporting for duty. “This is to ensure the effectiveness of the face-masks that are required to be worn. This is just one, from a wide range of measures which have been introduced to mitigate against the spread of Covid-19 and to help ensure that the health and well-being of all of our staff and those in our custody is protected,” said a spokesperson.
It is understood that talks are ongoing about the issue between the deacon and the governor.
The Prison Service added that “all staff, including staff of Irish Prison Service Headquarters, are required to be clean-shaven when attending for duty in prison locations. A chaplain has recently been appointed to Castlerea Prison and the service to prisoners continues to be provided along with all other services.”
When asked if prisoners have to be clean-shaven, the IPS said “prisoners only wear masks in certain areas, for example, if they are moving from the landing onto the exercise yard or to access different services. They have also been advised that for masks to be effective, they should be clean-shaven.” The spokesperson said it was probably not the case that all prisoners were clean-shaven.
Deacon Talbot, who is a part-time chaplain, refused to shave his beard, which he is understood to have worn for decades. As a result, the governor declared that he would not be allowed entry to the facility.
The fallout meant the 340 prisoners in Castlerea did not have access to the chaplain through the religious occasions over the Christmas period.
Duties ordinarily undertaken by prison chaplains include informing prisoners of the death of a close relative.
Deacon Talbot was ordained a deacon for the Elphin diocese in 2012. Deacons are laypeople who can undertake aspects of a priest’s duties, including officiating at weddings, funerals, and baptisms.
The stand-off over Deacon Talbot’s beard developed soon after he took up his duties as a chaplain in early November, following the retirement of his predecessor.
Roscommon businessman Andrew Reynolds, who knows Deacon Talbot, described the situation as “a deeply unsatisfactory situation and left many people in vulnerable situations as well as being a case of rules simply going too far.
“These are difficult and deeply challenging times for everyone and we all need help – including spiritual guidance – and a decision like this which leaves a man willing and able to offer support to prison inmates without access to his flock simply makes no sense,” said Mr Reynolds.
“Therefore I would call on the prison service and the governor in Castlerea Prison to rethink their decision and reinstate Deacon Talbot to his role as chaplain as a matter of urgency,” he said.