Holy row over starting council meeting with a prayer

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

A holy row over whether it’s proper to start Carrick-on-Suir Town Council meetings with a prayer erupted at the local authority’s latest meeting.

Maverick Independent Cllr Pierce O’Loughlin received a strong reaction from his colleagues when he tabled a motion posing this question in view of the Council’s status as a civic body.

He warned councillors that some day there will be a person elected to the council, who is not of the same religion as the majority of elected members, and they could object to the customary prayer being recited before the meeting commenced.

In view of this, he wondered should the Council take the initiative and abolish the prayer.

Fianna Fail Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan seconded the motion so the issue could be discussed by councillors.

She said it made no odds to her whether a prayer was said before each meeting or not. Praying was a personal thing that was up to each individual and she suggested that perhaps councillors could say a silent prayer before meetings if they wished.

Five councillors declared their support for the retention of the prayer before meetings.

“I don’t think a short little prayer does any harm,” said Fine Gael Cllr Margaret Croke, while Independent Cllr Richie O’Neill pointed to the roll of honour of former council chairpersons on the wall and declared that they never objected to the prayer. And he said the Council’s members should pray for those councillors who came before them.

Another Independent Cllr Patsy Fitzgerald said he didn’t think it was improper at all to have a prayer.

He said reciting the prayer was historic and customary on the Council and he thought it very ironic that councillors were trying to get rid of it during the Council’s 175th anniversary.

“If councillors are upset about it maybe they can leave the chamber and came in when the prayer is said,” he suggested.

Cllrs O’Loughlin and Cooney-Sheehan took exception to this comment. “That is very offensive,” Cllr Cooney-Sheehan retorted.

Fianna Fail Cllr Kieran Bourke also gave his tuppence worth. He said he personally believed it was good to have the prayer but proposed a compromise that the Council follow the practice of the Seanad, which began each session with a moment of silence to respect the people of different religions and none, followed by the prayer.

“If it’s good enough for Seanad Eireann, it’s good enough for Carrick-on-Suir Town Council,” he declared.

And Labour Cllr Sarah Dunne recited a passage from Bunreacht na hEireann in support of retaining the pre-meeting prayer and argued that until the Constitution was changed there was no point in getting rid of it.

Cllr Cooney-Sheehan clarified that the motion didn’t seek to get rid of the prayer, it just asked the question was it proper to have it at the start of meetings.

“Well you got your answer,” Cllr Fitzgerald interjected.

Cllr O’Loughlin, meanwhile, dismissed Cllr Bourke’s proposal by saying: “It doesn’t concern me in the least what happens in the Seanad because I hope they have a referendum soon and close it down.”

Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Liam Walsh referred the motion to the Council’s Standing Orders Committee for a decision on whether another motion should come before the Council seeking to abolish the prayer.

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