HIV appeared in Ireland following an opiate epidemic in the early 1980s. Initially, however, the gay community mounted the only response to the spread of the virus while the implementation of early actions by the government was hampered by the constructions of the disease within Irish society. This paper considers the influence of the religious hierarchy in both the development of AIDS policy and in the shaping of public perceptions of the disease and those affected. A qualitative methodology is used to examine the role of such cultural constraints in an evaluation of the social context within which the prevention of HIV infection occurs. Three key issues pertinent to the policy context in Ireland are explored in depth. These are the role of the Catholic Church, the influences on health education programmes, particularly information giving, and the development of services and other interventions. These findings are discussed within the social and political contexts in which health policy is formulated.