Council fall out over a prayer

Cllr Mark Fielding
Cllr Mark Fielding

A councillor attending a committee meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council last week asked members to take ‘a moment to reflect’, as he reminded his colleagues that Christians were being beheaded in Islamic countries.

Ulster Unionist councillor William McCandless was annoyed after members failed to agree on a motion put forward by DUP councillor Mark Fielding which called on the new Causeway Coast and Glens Council to open the full council meeting with a prayer - a prayer that had been used by Coleraine Borough Council for over forty years.

After over an hour of debate, the Chairman of the Corporate Policy and Resources Committee, Alderman Norman Hillis called a recess to see if the disagreement could be resolved.

Councillor Fielding’s motion, he said, was ‘about recognising the Christian heritage, tradition and professed faith of our citizens.’

He remarked: “The prayer by the Mayor prior to the business is a tradition and practice worth protecting.” His motion was seconded by DUP councillor James McCorkell.

The proposal was opposed by Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane, who said: “We shouldn’t be shoving beliefs down people’s throats.”

SDLP alderman, Maura Hickey, said that she had no problem with starting the meeting with a prayer ‘in principle’ but felt the prayer used by Coleraine Borough Council was outdated. She proposed that a working group should be set up to look for a ‘more modern, fit for purpose’ prayer.

Councillor Fielding suggested that any members not in agreement could come into the meeting after prayer. He said: “It is not part of the main council business.”

Sinn Fein’s Brenda Chivers described the practice as ‘divisive’, and that prayer was a ‘personal thing’.

SDLP councillor Orla Beattie added: “It’s not very inclusive to expect members to stand out side. I don’t come here to pray,” she said.

SDLP councillor Stephanie Quigley suggested that the meeting could start with the Lord’s Prayer.

Alderman Hickey then withdrew her amendment, and supported councillor Quigley’s proposal that the meeting should be started with the Lord’s Prayer.

With members then being asked to vote, an angry UUP councillor William McCandless blasted: “I am annoyed that we are sitting here in a Christian country being asked to vote with or against the Lord’s Prayer - Christians are being beheaded in Islamic countries, I think we need time to reflect for a moment.”

Committee chair Alderman Hillis asked the parties to break into their groupings and take ‘time to reflect’.

After a recess of 20 minutes, councillor Fielding withdrew his proposal, and councillor Quigley’s amendment that meetings should start with the Lord’s prayer became the only the proposal on the table.

Councillor Cara McShane said she believed that politics and religion were ‘separate’, and suggested Council needed to seek legal advice.

“The staff are compelled to be at these meeting, there is a huge case waiting to happen either with the Equality Commission or a Tribunal,” she said.

Councillor Duddy told the meeting that he was ‘more than annoyed’ and he put forward an amendment that the Lord’s Prayer and the prayer used by Coleraine Borough Council should be said at the start of the full council meetings.

“I am disgusted that a prayer that we should all say every day has become a debate, “said the exasperated DUP man.

Councillor McCandless ,who seconded the amendment, agreed, describing the debate as ‘a sad night’.

SDLP councillor Quigley then withdrew her proposal, and her party colleague alderman Hickey tabled another amendment asking that the prayer should be said at 6.55, five minutes before the start of the meeting.

However on being put to a vote the amendment was lost and the proposal by councillor Duddy to have both prayers said at the start of the full meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, was carried by eight votes to two.

The SDLP abstained from the vote. The two Sinn Fein members, councillors McShane and Chivers voted against the proposal.

The business of this committee will be rattified at the full meeting later this month.