Vote on changes to Dáil prayer deferred until after Easter

Atheist Ireland wants end to Oireachtas practice of praying to ‘Christ Our Lord’

 

A vote on an amendment to the Dáil rules to allow for 30 seconds of “silent reflection” after the traditional prayer is said at the opening of daily business has been deferred.

The period of reflection was intended as a compromise to those who wanted to abolish the prayer entirely.

However, Solidarity TD Mick Barry, Social Democrat Róisín Shortall and others objected to the matter proceeding without debate on Tuesday.

The issue will now come before the House after Easter, according to Government chief whip Regina Doherty, following the objections raised at the Oireachtas Business Committee.

“People are entitled to express their views in the chamber, but I didn’t think it was appropriate in holy week,” Ms Doherty said.

The continuation of the prayer has led to some criticism from TDs such as Ruth Coppinger of Solidarity, as well as organisations such as Atheist Ireland, which is asking people to write to their local TDs asking them to “stop forcing parliamentarians to pray to ‘Christ Our Lord’.”

The traditional prayer is read by the Ceann Comhairle, or whoever is in the chair at the time.

It says: “Direct, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance; that every word and work of ours may always begin from Thee, and by Thee be happily ended; through Christ Our Lord.”

Usually, TDs and those in the public and press galleries stand during this prayer. It is now proposed that everyone stand for an additional 30 seconds afterwards.

The new rules say: “All members present shall stand while the prayer is being read, and when it is concluded, members shall remain standing for 30 seconds of silent reflection.”

‘Pluralist Republic’

Last month the Dáil and Seanad rejected requests that a Hindu prayer be read at the opening session of debate in each chamber.

Atheist Ireland chair Michael Nugent said the prayer was “inappropriate in a modern pluralist Republic, and it infringes upon the human right to freedom of conscience by forcing people to reveal, directly or indirectly, information about their religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs”.

Mr Nugent said the proposed change would “reinforce Christian privilege” by just “amending the prayer at the start of each day”.

The amended prayer would infringe “on the human rights of those who have to either participate or else reveal their religious or nonreligious beliefs, as ruled on by the European Court of Human Rights,” while “unelected staff members, who have to be in the chamber, must sit through these daily prayers, which may be contrary to their personal belief,” he said

Mr Nugent also claimed it was “inappropriate that our parliamentarians should publicly ask a god, particularly a specific variation of a specific god, to direct their actions and every word and work of theirs.”

Figures from the 2016 census published last week showed the second largest group in the “questions about religion” category were those declaring no religion, at 10 per cent or 468,420, an increase of 76.3 per cent or 198,610, from 2011.