A decision to pray before monthly meetings at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council has been branded as “unChristian” and “hypocritical” by SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors.
At the end of March, 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. It came back before council again in May when legal advice was sought.
When the matter was brought before councillors last Tuesday, it passed by 19 votes to 11.
SDLP Colr. Gerry Mullan was among the councillors who was opposed to the move.
“Prayer should be a private and personal matter and everyone should be allowed the freedom to decide how and where they pray. This is a totally cynical and, indeed, unChristian act in order to coerce nationalist councillors into a process they fundamentally object to simply, in my view, to dominate the chamber,” said Colr. Mullan. “I do think this presents many difficulties, not just for councillors, but for members of staff who it will also impact upon. The chamber is a place for dealing with civic matters and should remain as such and anyone who objects should not be brandished as heathens simply because they do not wish to be involved in what is a hypocritical behaviour.”
Colr. Mullan added: “Christians are meant to lead by example and should not be forcing people to engage in something against their will so this move regarding saying prayer is totally unChristian, in my view. This is yet another attempt by unionist councillors to use the democartic process to impose their will on the nationalist councillors in the chamber.”
Sinn Fein Colr. Brenda Chivers said her party was opposed to the move.
“We are not against anyone praying. Praying is a personal matter. The council chamber is a place of work. We have to consider the staff and the people in the public gallery. The fact unionists want to pray before a council meeting and then they bring devisive motions - for example, the flag issue - in front of the council is hypocritcal,” said Colr. Chivers.
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