Councillor prays for end to chamber's ban on crucifix
Equality legislation blamed for prohibiting display of Christian symbol
Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30
It could be said he's singing out of the same hymn sheet as British prime minister David Cameron, but Kerry councillor John Joe Culloty says he's just tired of feeling he has to "apologise for his beliefs".
In the same week as Cameron encouraged Britain to be unashamedly "evangelical" about its Christian faith and actively hand churches and other faith groups a greater role in society, Mr Culloty just wants a crucifix to be hung in his council chamber.
But the motion by the 49-year-old married father of two has caused controversy, not least because Kerry County Council officials say they may not be able to accommodate the democratic wishes of its members because it is prohibited from doing so by equality legislation.
But Culloty's proposal – "In light of our Christian faith and the strong Christian values contained within our constitution, that Kerry County Council erect a crucifix on the wall of the new council chamber" – was backed by only five of his fellow councillors at a meeting of the local authority this week. The motion was opposed by three council members, but because 18 councillors were absent when the vote was taken – late in the afternoon and five weeks before a council election – the number present was still a valid quorum.
Opinion was divided at the meeting, which was held in a hotel while the council chamber undergoes a €250,000 revamp.
Despite the protestations of the director of corporate services John Flynn, who advised against the motion because of its implications to equality legislation, the 2:1 outcome on the vote was pretty much what Mr Culloty had anticipated.
The building contractor, who is a devout Catholic but describes himself as a "simple" and "flawed" man, revealed he had discussed it with only three of his fellow councillors before the meeting, and two agreed and one was opposed.
Co-opted on to Kerry County Council following the 2011 General Election to fill the vacancy created by Tom Fleming (Ind) – a former Fianna Fail councillor – Mr Culloty says he was initially a "reluctant" politician.
Now, he's perceived as the party's best chance of securing a seat in the Killarney electoral area.
Writing in the Anglican newspaper, the Church Times' Cameron described Britain as a "Christian country" living in an increasingly "secular society".
Mr Culloty feels he's living in a time where a "minority of people" are moving society in a direction that's "contrary to Christian beliefs".
"We're almost apologising for our faith," he told the Sunday Independent.
He said he moved the motion now because the council chambers were being refurbished and he was afraid to leave it until after the work was complete would have been a missed opportunity.
"I suppose it was to get people to think more about their faith and what direction we want to go really," he added. "If it could have been done in a calm and casual way I would have been far happier and then I thought about talking to each councillor individually and seeing if we could come up with common ground, but what was I going to do even if three-quarters of councillors agreed?"
Michael Cahill (Ind) supported the motion, saying it might encourage people to "tell the truth" in the chamber.
The three councillors who opposed his suggestion included Mayor of Kerry Seamus Cosai MacGearailt, Labour's Gillian Wharton Slattery and Sinn Fein's Toireasa Ferris, who said that even though she was a Christian, she thought religion and politics should be kept separate.
But Mr Culloty doesn't buy this argument.
"Where does politics begin and religion stop?" he asks. "You can't just pick and choose. If you are a Christian, your Christian values have to come in to every decision you make. I'm not talking about the Church having any say, I'm talking about people's consciences. You can't just put it into a box and say the church is for ceremonies. You're either in it or you're not and I think we seem to be somewhere in between, and the direction we're going is not where we should be going, in my opinion."
He also said his beliefs were that all people should be respected and although he has never met anyone who was offended by a crucifix or a crib, he's met plenty who were offended when they were taken down.
"It seems strange that a majority who are offended when these things are taken down are not taken into account, and people who are not offended by these symbols being there are being used as the reason why we're losing our Christian symbols," he said.
Kerry County Council is now seeking legal advice on the issue.
Mr Culloty says that like any motion he brings before the council, he will have to accept the outcome.