The row over the saying of a prayer before Causeway Coast and Glens full council meetings has finally been resolved.
Councillors voted in favour of saying the 45-word prayer at Tuesday night’s meeting - but not before more heated debate.
The issue has been on the table at Council since the end of March when DUP councillor Mark Fielding proposed a notice of motion ‘‘that the new Council retains the practice of opening the Council Meeting in prayer which existed in the Council chamber under Coleraine Borough Council.”
The matter was referred to the Corporate Policy and Resources meeting in April were they recommended two prayers be said before meetings. It came back before council again in May when a point of order was raised in terms of the standing order and legal advice was sought.
That was presented to councillors ahead of last week’s night’s meeting for a decision.
Cllr Ian Stevenson backed his DUP colleague’s proposal.
“I think it would do us all good to say a prayer before we conduct council business we commend it to God,” he said.
“We’ve always talked about equality, but it seems we have to respect everyone’s beliefs but the beliefs of those who live in this country who are Christian.”
Sinn Fein’s Cara McShane was blunt: “I just had to wake myself up there I didn’t realise I was still in a council meeting and we’re still in 2015.
“The language that has been used so far is actually very scary.”
Independent councillor Padraig McShane suggested the proposal was a facade. “This is all for show in my mind, and these people would be termed hypocrites in the Bible,” he said.
“I think what we’re doing is placing Christianity above all other religions in the district, and we’re placing it above people who don’t believe in any religion, it’s opening up a can of worms for us.”
The DUP’s Sam Cole hit back saying: “We hear a lot about civil rights etc. Where is the right for people to decide in a democratic matter to open the meeting prayer? Is Cllr McShane saying all corporate prayers are hypocritical?
“There seems to be an element of left wing prayer phobia creeping into the chamber.”
Sinn Fein’s Philip McGuigan said it was a council chamber and not a church.
“I understand prayer is a sensitive issue and I don’t want to make a mockery of it, but I have to be honest, some of the things I have to listen to in this chamber are nothing short of nonsense,” he said.
“This is a council chamber, this isn’t a church. The previous speaker was talking about rights, we’re not diminishing anyone’s rights because I want to come in here and conduct my business on what it’s supposed to be.
“If I wanted to pray I would go to church. I am going to propose we keep the order of business as it is.
“All these religious, or Christian people, or people who want to pray, they have the previous 12 hours before they come to the meeting to pray.”
Alderman Maura Hickey, who proposed a minute’s silence for a period of reflection before the meeting, said: “I have no issue with a prayer, but I think to make it acceptable for staff, members and everyone in council, irrespective of faith or creed, they should feel that they can come in to the chamber and either pray or just have a minute’s reflection,” she said.
Alderman Hickey’s SDLP colleague Ald Gerry Mullan agreed, saying: “Bringing this proposal to council does present many difficulties, not just for those people who don’t share the same faith or beliefs, but it also presents difficulties for members of staff who may not fully support the idea of praying before a meeting.
“I think it is very condescending and wrong for people to try and force their will on others, especially something so personal as prayer.”
Deputy Mayor, Cllr Darryl Wilson, proposed a vote be taken on Cllr Fielding’s notice in accordance with standing order 17.4.
A vote was taken with 19 voting in favour and 10 voting against so the motion was carried.