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Controversial religious group to return funds

THE House of Prayer has offered to return donations to its aggrieved followers amid a growing number of complaints about the vast wealth accumulated by the prophetic religious group.

Donations of up to €90,000 to the Catholic religious outfit are being investigated by gardai and the taxman, after allegations about its vast wealth emerged earlier this year.

Four donors have now made formal complaints to gardai, alleging they gave the money in the belief that the House of Prayer was in need of it. At least three more complaints are expected to follow.

Representatives of the House of Prayer have told gardai and the Catholic hierarchy that it is willing to return disputed donations. That may not be enough to avert a garda inquiry, however, as authorities are obliged to investigate complaints.

The probe is likely to prove highly embarrassing for the religious movement, led by the former housewife turned self-proclaimed visionary, Christina Gallagher.

One complaint comes from an elderly couple who claim they are impoverished after donating their €90,000 life savings to the House of Prayer, at the request of Ms Gallagher's associates.

The investigation is expected to involve interviews with leading figures in the House of Prayer, including Ms Gallagher, the spiritual director, Fr Gerard McGinnity, and another associate, John Rooney.

Gardai may also contact the Catholic hierarchy, which has condemned the House of Prayer and urged people concerned about their donations to contact the authorities.

Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary circulated a damning statement on Ms Gallagher's movement to parishes across Ireland, as well as America and even as far as the Philippines.

The Revenue Commissioners, meanwhile, is completing its inquiry into the House of Prayer, which lost its charitable status in 2005. That means the House of Prayer is liable for gift tax on all donations it received since then.

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Christina Gallagher founded the House of Prayer in the 1980s after claiming to receive divine messages from the Virgin Mary.

Earlier this year revelations emerged about the House of Prayer's multimillion euro property portfolio and the lavish mansion in Malahide, north Dublin, which is at Ms Gallagher's disposal.

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