Row over prayers keeps rumbling on

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‘If it’s good enough for the Dail and good enough for Westminster, then it’s good enough for us here - that was the view of one Ulster Unionist councillor attending last Tuesday’s meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

Coleraine councillor William McCandless was speaking as members fell out for a second time,as they discussed whether the monthly full Council meeting should be opened with prayer.

During last month’s Corporate Policy and Resources Committee, Coleraine DUP councillor Mark Fielding put forward a notice of motion asking for the monthly meeting of Council to be opened with a prayer.

After some debate by committee members, it was agreed that two prayers, the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer put forward in councillor Fielding’s notice of motion, that had been used by Coleraine Borough Council, would be read at the start of meeting.

As the minutes of the committee meeting were put forward to be ratified before the full council meeting last Tuesday night, the issue was raised again.

However, Coleraine DUP councillor George Duddy pointed out that under standing orders, matters arising from Council committees could not be discussed at the full council meeting, unless they were put forward in writing 24 hours before hand.

In light of councillor Duddy’s comments, Ballymoney Sinn Fein councillor Phillip McGuigan pointed out that the prayer had in fact been put forward as a notice of motion.

After a debate lasting 15 minutes, members agreed to seek legal advice on how Council standing orders covered a notice of motion.

During the debate, Moyle Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane she was worried that council staff would have to ‘sit through’ a Christian procedure, she said: “Lawyers must be rubbing their hands, this is a test case waiting to happen.”

Her party colleague, councillor McGuigan asked how a prayer fitted in with Council’s equality policy and said that the actions could be making a member of staff feel ‘uncomfortable’.

Reading out a prayer, Ballymoney DUP councillor Ian Stevenson revealed that it was the prayer that was read at the start of the day’s business in the Dail. “I have never heard Sinn Fein or any nationalist party objecting to prayer in the Dail, he said.

UUP Ballymoney councillor Darryl Wilson said he was ‘disappointed’ that Council was again debating a prayer. “I cannot leave my religious beliefs at the door, they are with me wherever I am,” he said.

Chair, Mayor of the Borough, Michelle Knight McQuillan concluded the debate advising members that Council would seek legal clarification on how a notice of motion was covered by standing orders.