Belfast Telegraph

Majority of our councils no longer hear prayer before meetings

By Rebecca Black

Just four councils in Northern Ireland still hear prayers before their monthly meeting, it can be revealed.

Following a proposal to replace the prayer with a reflective silence that sparked a heated debate at Ards and North Down Borough Council earlier this week, the Belfast Telegraph asked the other 10 local authorities what their policy was on the matter.

Aside from Ards and North Down, only Castlereagh Borough and Lisburn City Council, Causeway Coast and Glens Council and Antrim and Newtownabbey Council hear a prayer before their monthly meeting.

In Belfast the policy is that at the start of each meeting of the council the Lord Mayor may read a short passage from the scriptures. However, current first citizen Nuala McAllister has chosen not to do a reading.

Ms McAllister previously caused controversy with some Christians after dispensing with prayers before her installation dinner in September.

Ms McAllister, an atheist, didn't invite anyone to say grace at the event.

The remaining councils, including Mid and East Antrim - of which Ballymena is part of - do not hear a prayer or scripture reading before business.

On Tuesday evening Green Party councillor John Barry proposed to the corporate committee of Ards and North Down Council that the prayer be replaced with a silence. This was defeated by 10 votes to three, with only Alliance's Andrew Muir and Deborah Girvan supporting the motion. However, a final decision will be taken at the next full meeting of the council on Wednesday, November 29.

Mr Barry said he was disappointed by the outcome and insisted his proposal "is a threat to no one".

He paid tribute to the other councillors for a "respectful" debate, but voiced disappointment that it came down to "majority rules".

Ards and North Down mayor Robert Adair previously spoke out against Mr Barry's motion, saying he felt it was an "attack by the Green Party on Christianity".

Last night he told the Belfast Telegraph he welcomed the voting down of the proposal at the committee meeting. He pointed out that meetings of the Assembly, House of Commons and Dail Eireann all start with a prayer, and said he hoped the meeting of the full council will also reject Mr Barry's motion.

Belfast Telegraph

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