Thursday 17 August 2017

Dáil prayer to be saved - and TDs told to stand

Ireland is among a minority of European countries where a prayer is still read at the start of the day, although similar procedures are in place in the US, Canada and Australia. Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
Ireland is among a minority of European countries where a prayer is still read at the start of the day, although similar procedures are in place in the US, Canada and Australia. Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The Dáil prayer is to be saved, despite accusations of sectarianism and threats of boycotts.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will vote to keep the prayer alongside a new 30-second period for silent reflection.

TDs debated the purpose of the prayer last night with massively divergent views emerging between the two main parties and left-wing groupings.

Currently, members of the Dáil rise to their feet for the Ceann Comhairle's entrance and most remain on their feet for the prayer, which is read in Irish and English.

Under changes to be approved tomorrow, it will now be compulsory to remain standing.

In a bid to appease non-religious members, a "moment's silence" will also now be held.

Ireland is among a minority of European countries where a prayer is still read at the start of the day, although similar procedures are in place in the US, Canada and Australia.

Fine Gael junior minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy acknowledged the "profile of the country has changed over the years". She said opinions were likely to differ within parties but the new arrangement would "reflect beliefs, or none".

Mary Butler of Fianna Fáil said retaining the prayer alongside a period of reflection would be a way of "encompassing a modern Ireland while respecting the traditions of the past".

Her colleague Anne Rabbitte said: "I think it is a part of our tradition. Like all good things, we don't need to abolish all parts of our tradition."

However, Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh described the situation as "a fudge".

"It may be a tradition in this House and it has been in British parliaments since Queen Elizabeth I," he said. "All this state did was carry on that tradition and in doing so insulted every other single religion and every other religion that was represented in this House since.

"You are specifically asked to stand and to honour and to seek the help of a lord that many people don't believe in."

Mr Ó Snodaigh described the prayer as "quite sectarian".

Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger described the proposal as "baffling" and took particular offence at rules specifying that TDs must stand for the prayer.

"Now there's going to be a requirement, a compulsion, an obligation for all TDs to stand. It takes away any voluntary nature of it. And potentially disciplinary action if they don't comply," the Dublin West TD said. "At a time when the rest of society out there is demanding a separation of Church and State, the Dáil decides to embed an archaic practice."

She also questioned the onus on the Ceann Comhairle to read the prayer. "Can we ever then have a Ceann Comhairle who is not a Christian?" she asked.

Bríd Smith said if the new rules were passed, she would refuse to stand for the prayer.

"This is the year 2017. The country has moved on. Could this house please move with the people, move with the times and realise that we need to separate Church and State?" she said.

A number of Independent TDs, including Mattie McGrath and the Healy Raes, will vote in favour of retaining the prayer.

Irish Independent

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