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Poll: Should prayers be said before Northern Ireland council meetings?

By Mark Edwards

A row has erupted at North Down and Ards Borough Council after a motion to remove prayers at the start of council meetings was put forward.

Green Party councillor John Barry, who has introduced the motion, said it was "not inclusive of those of different religions and beliefs" to have prayers at each meeting. But the DUP Mayor Robert Adair hit back, accusing the Green Party of attacking Christian values.

Cllr Barry said: "As an official part of the agenda the first item on every monthly council meeting is a prayer. It is an official council prayer that is usually set by the chief executive. The last two mayors have also introduced a tradition of Bible readings. I have no issues with people wanting to have a moment's reflection or commune with their god but it has no business being part of the official agenda.

"This is not an attack on Christianity. This is about separation of church and state. It is about the removal of any religious connotation as an official part of council business."

Cllr Adair said: "I will be opposing the motion and voting against it. I just feel it is an attack by the Green Party on Christianity and Christian values. I am a born-again Christian and I live my life by Christian principles and people were aware of that when I was elected to the council. I feel the Green Party would be better not bringing divisive motions to council because there is plenty of local issues we could be spending our time debating."

The council will vote on the motion on the November 14. If passed, a new reflective silence will be adopted.

A spokesman for Ards Churches Together said: "Our scriptures call us to seek peace and prosperity for the towns and cities in which we reside, and to pray for them. We are praying for fruitful dialogue in the forthcoming debate about the place of prayer on local council agendas. The Christian heritage of this place has long played a role in civic life and discussion about the future of religious expressions in council meetings will be well served by those who listen closely to understand one another's views.

"We are grateful to God that people of different viewpoints and ideologies come together on our council to work for the good of the borough and to seek peace and prosperity."

The row comes after Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister caused a controversy after dispensing with prayers before her installation dinner in September.

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

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