Zappone, McGrath and Halligan break ranks over Dáil prayer

Prayer retained along with 30 seconds of silent reflection by 97 votes to 18

A vote in the Dáil could change the daily ritual of starting the proceedings with a prayer to starting it with a prayer and 30 seconds of silent contemplation. Harry McGee reports.

 

Three Independent Ministers have broken ranks with the Government over the Dáil prayer.

Independent Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Independent Alliance Ministers of State Finian McGrath and John Halligan voted in the Dáil on Thursday against a Dáil business committee proposal that TDs must stand for the reading of the prayer in Irish and English and remain standing for a subsequent 30 seconds of silent reflection.

The proposal was accepted, however, by a majority of 97 votes to 18, with 18 abstentions. The new rule says: “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.”

The new provision will commence at the start of business next Tuesday.

The prayer, read before the start of business, usually by the Ceann Comhairle, states: “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, Amen.”

Ms Zappone, Mr McGrath and Mr Halligan had also earlier voted against the Government and in favour of a Sinn Féin proposal to replace the prayer with 60 seconds of silent reflection. That was rejected by 94 votes to 41.

There were four votes in all on the issue as Sinn Féin, Solidarity and Independent TD Joan Collins proposed alternatives to the retention of the prayer with the addition of the 30 seconds of silent reflection.

A Solidarity proposal to abolish the prayer altogether, with no replacement, was rejected by 97 votes to 15. A proposal from Independent TD Joan Collins to replace the prayer with 30 seconds of silent reflection was also rejected by 96 votes to 19.

Fine Gael won the final vote when it was supported in adding 30 seconds of silence to the prayer by the remaining Independent Alliance members as well as Fianna Fáil and Labour TDs and Independents Maureen O’Sullivan, Michael Collins, Michael Fitzmaurice, Noel Grealish, Michael Harty, Michael Lowry, Mattie McGrath and Thomas Pringle.

Rejected

Along with the three Ministers, the move was rejected by Solidarity People Before Profit, the Social Democrats, the Green Party, and Independents Tommy Broughan, Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Séamus Healy and Mick Wallace. Sinn Féin TDs abstained.

The issue provoked major differences of opinion when it was debated on Tuesday night.

Independent TD Joan Collins said Ireland and the UK were the only European parliaments to start the day’s proceedings with a prayer.

Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler said her party had faith in what the business committee decided, as it was representative of all the parties and none. She said the retention of the prayer, with a reflection, was encompassing a modern Ireland, while still respecting the traditions of the past.

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh argued the prayer should be replaced with a moment’s reflection.

A requirement under the new proposal is that TDs stand for the prayer. People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said during the debate: “I’m not standing, no matter what I’m told to do, because my religion is my business and is not up for public scrutiny.”

Ms Smith said the former US president Thomas Jefferson first mooted the separation of church and state in 1802, when he argued that every person was entitled to their own religion, and that should include the right to have a place of prayer - but it should not include the state identifying with any one particular religion.

She said 215 years later it was still an issue for the Dáil.