Crucifix conflict splits Kerry county council

Resolution to erect cross on new chamber likely to fall foul of equality legislation

 A crucifix stands outside  Leinster House in  Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A crucifix stands outside Leinster House in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Wed, Apr 16, 2014, 08:39

A resolution by councillors in Kerry to erect a crucifix on their new chamber, which is set to open after Easter, is unlikely to be carried through because of a conflict with equality legislation, it has emerged.

The crucifix would mark a new departure for the council in Kerry which has hitherto eschewed all religious symbols, a meeting of the council was told this week.

However councillors said they were tired of apologising for their religion and one councillor suggested the erection of the cross might even encourage truth telling in the Kerry chamber.

Various equality acts including the Equal Status Act and Employment Equality Acts and the Equality Act, were being consulted yesterday – but the initial conclusion was the crucifix, a symbol of one religion, could not be erected on the council chamber which serves the general public and which is also a workplace, a council spokesman said.

“We are obliged to carry out motions passed by councillors – but only in so far as other legislation is not breached,” the spokesman said.

On Monday, the motion by Fianna Fáil councillor John Joe Culloty to erect the crucifix was voted through despite the fact only nine of the 27 elected members were present at the meeting. However, the number present was a valid quorum for a vote to be taken.

Management at the meeting strongly opposed the proposal.

Director of Corporate Services John Flynn said:” I would advise against this [THE MOTION]. This raises issues with and probably goes against equality legistlation, in particular the Equality Act and the Equal Status Act.”

Monday’s meeting was held in a hotel while the council chamber is being re-vamped at a cost of €250,000.

Six councillors voted for the motion which stated: “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.”

The Fine Gael mayor of Kerry, Seamus Coasí Fitzgerald voted against the motin, as did Labour’s Gillian Wharton-Slattery and Sinn Féin’s Toireasa Ferris.

Mr Culloty, who was co-opted onto the council at the election of the former Fianna Fáil member and now Independent TD for Kerry South Tom Fleming, said he was anxious that the Christian Faith of the majority of people be reflected in the new council chamber.

He wanted to do so before the election as he may not be re-elected.

The old chamber did not have a crucifix and no provision had been made for one in the revamp which was currently under way, management also indicating that equality legislation would be breached.

However, Cllr Culloty insisted Christianity was “part of our heritage.”

People were tired of apologising for their religion. He had consulted the local imam and people of the Muslim religion had no objection to the crucifix, he also said.

“The vast majority of people in this country are of the Christian faith,” he said.

Even though he might not be re-elected, he would like to see a crucifix over the new council assembly, Cllr Culloty said.

Cllr Wharton-Slattery objected strongly and at one point suggested the council should erect symbols of all religions on the Tralee chamber, if a crucifix were to be erected.

“Christianity is not actually everyone’s religion and heritage. We are here to represent the wider community. There’s not a place on any wall for politics and religion mixed. There are plenty of churches in every town and village,”she said.

Cllr Ferris - who said she was a Christian - also objected, asking what council business had to do with religion. “Where does religion come into pothole filling?” Cllr Ferris asked.

The council motto of “Comhar, Cabhair and Cairdeas” was common to all

religions and this was enough for a political chamber, she said.

However the Independent Cllr Michael Cahill, supporting the motion said: “Maybe it would encourage more of the truth to be told.”