Update: following lobbying from Atheist Ireland and opposition from secular TDs, the Dail business committee decided today to postpone this vote until 2nd May, in order to allow time for debate. Please continue to contact your TDs about this between now and then.
The UK and Ireland are the only European parliaments that start their day with a prayer. And TDs are today to be asked to vote, without any debate, on forcing parliamentarians to stand during the Dail prayer, which will now be said twice, once in Irish and once in English.
Wording of today’s motion
The existing prayer is bad enough, but the proposed changes make it even worse. Here is the wording of Standing Order 27, with the proposed changes in bold.
27. (1) Upon taking the Chair each day, and before any business is entered upon, the Ceann Comhairle shall read the following prayer in the Irish and English languages:
‘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.’
(2) 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.
Problems with the motion
Here are the main problems with today’s motion about the prayer:
- Public representatives in a Republic should not be starting their working day by asking a God to direct their every action, word and work.
- The explicitly Christian prayer is not only retained, but is now to be read twice, once in English and once in Irish.
- TDs will now be forced to stand during this religious ritual, even if it is against their personal right to freedom of religion and belief.
Here are the main problems with the proposed moment of reflection:
- Christians will still be privileged by having their prayer read out load and publicly, while other TDs will have to pray or reflect silently and secretly.
- The moment of reflection is implicitly asking TDs to reflect on the prayer. The standing order remains titled ‘Prayer,’ and TDs are instructed to remain standing for a continuous ritual that involves reading the prayer and then silently reflecting.
According to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, the practice of TDs praying is associated with the Westminster parliamentary tradition. The UK and Ireland are the only European parliaments that start their day with a prayer. It also happens in Australia, South Africa, Canada and the United States.
Elsewhere in Europe, there are no parliamentary prayers in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain or Sweden.
Atheist Ireland is asking all TDs to vote that the Oireachtas cease the practice of starting each day’s business with a public prayer of any sort. It is 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.