€1.7m manna from heaven for island prayer centre
They may not have been praying for profits -- but money appears to be falling into the hands of the controversial House of Prayer in Achill like manna from heaven.
Accounts just filed with the Companies Registration Office show the religious retreat centre was sitting on profits of €1.72m at the end of last year.
The House of Prayer was founded by religious visionary Christina Gallagher in 1993 and is part of a wider unofficial Catholic group. It continues to attract visitors and generous donations in spite of stringent efforts by the Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary to distance the Catholic Church from the operation.
In 2008 the archbishop said: "The House of Prayer has no Catholic Church approval and its work does not enjoy the confidence of the diocesan authorities."
The Revenue Commissioners stripped the company of its charitable status in 2006, therefore forcing the centre to treat all its donations as income.
According to the latest accounts, the company's directors are in negotiations to have the status issue resolved so it would have tax-exempt status.
However, in 2009 the House of Prayer received €9,442 in Lotto funds. A spokesperson for the National Lottery said the money was distributed by the Government and would not comment on why the centre received such funds.
Accounts for the House of Prayer show an 18.7pc rise in income in 2010, to €626,282. Almost half of that -- €297,000 -- was from pilgrim donations.
While donations were up slightly in 2010, the real driver of the centre's income was from the sale of goods and merchandise. Visitors can purchase anything from religious snow globes to rosary beads and plastic religious figurines.
In 2010 the company made €285,600 from the sale of such items, up from €186,000 the previous year. The accounts also suggest a healthy mark-up on the sales: the company paid out just €155,000 in the same year for religious objects.
Cafe sales and accommodation accounted for another €30,000 of the centre's income.
No dividend was paid to the owners of the business last year. Employee numbers were cut from 12 to eight in 2010 with the wages bill for the House of Prayer reduced from €273,241 to €267,783.
The directors of the company were not available for comment yesterday.