Unholy row in council chamber as move to scrap prayer defeated

A proposal to scrap a prayer at the start of a local authority meeting sparked an unholy row last night.

Cork’s city councillors voted overwhelmingly against the move after a heated debate.

Socialist Party councillor Mick Barry, an atheist, called for the deletion of a rule governing the order of council business which states that the start of the council’s public meetings should include the recitation of an opening prayer, followed by a brief period of silent reflection.

The prayer reads: “Direct, we beseech thee, O Lord, our actions by thy holy inspirations and carry them on by thy gracious assistance; that every word and work of ours may

always begin from thee, and by thee be happily ended; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Quoting James Connolly’s position, Mr Barry said: “You should have separation of Church and State. When I come into this council chamber, I report for work.

“A bus driver who reports for work isn’t faced with saying a prayer.

“The State should not interfere with a person’s practice of religion in a genuine republican democracy.”

He was backed by Cllr Ted Tynan, Workers Party, and Fine Gael councillor Laura McGonigle.

“We don’t come in here to practise religion,” she said. “A short period of silent reflection is done in Dublin City Council, the Stormont Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.

“We should consider this as a pluralist and inclusive alternative.”

But several councillors said it was open to individuals to either stand or sit during the prayer.

Labour councillor Michael Ahern pointed out that Connolly signed the proclamation “in the name of God”.

Cllr Joe O’Callaghan (FG) said: “If it was good enough for Connolly, then it’s good enough for me.

“With all its faults, I’m a Catholic and I’m proud of that. And it’s still a Christian country and long may that continue.”

Sinn Féin’s Tom Gould urged caution against Mr Barry’s proposal.

“I respect his position, but we need to be careful about where we’re going,” he said. “I mean, are we going to end up calling Christmas ‘happy holidays’?”

Cllr Kenneth O’Flynn said it wouldn’t do any harm for councillors to aspire to follow the teachings of the bible.

A vote was called and Mr Barry’s proposal was shot down by 20 votes.

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