OPUS Dei, the Catholic organisation demonised in the bestseller, 'The Da Vinci Code', is sitting on properties across Ireland estimated by financial experts to be worth well in excess of ?100m.
This estimate of its assets puts the Irish province of Opus Dei among the wealthiest of the worldwide organisation's operations in 26 countries across five continents.
Opus Dei worldwide has been estimated to be worth ?2.8bn. Its assets in the United States are estimated at ?270m and ?56m in the UK.
A prime property owned by Opus Dei, which means literally "The Work of God", is the Lismullin Conference Centre, in Tara, Co Meath, which cost ?12m when it was completed six years ago.
Last night the Irish Independent learned the impressive conference centre has been insured by Opus Dei to the value of ?20m.
"This is what it would cost to build now if Lismullin was burned down," a spokesman said. "The last estate agent to value it in 2001 put a figure of ?3.5m as its market value because we customise centres to suit our needs.
"This fact demonstrates the point that Opus Dei is not interested in developing properties to make money.
"We intend to keep them and use them for our spiritual, educational, charitable and cultural activities which assist our 800 members to strive for personal holiness in their daily lives.
"Opus Dei is not wealthy," the spokesman added. "Every penny we get, we spend on our apostolic activities."
Despite this disclaimer, financial experts say Opus Dei owns one of the most potentially lucrative real estate properties in the country but as many of their buildings and retreat centres with sprawling land were purchased in the 1950s and 1960s, the organisation does have to pay mortgages on them.
In Ireland, Opus Dei is a legal entity, operating under various companies.
Its university halls of residence in Dublin, Galway and Limerick are run in the name of University Hostels Ltd, which makes returns to the Companies Office and a company called Property Management Ltd is responsible for the upkeep of their properties. A list of 20 Opus Dei properties has been obtained by the Irish Independent.
In addition to the Lismullin Conference Centre, they include the Ely University Centre, 9-10 Hume Street, close to St Stephen's Green, the Glenard University Residence in Roebuck Road, Dublin 14, the Nullamore Youth Centre, in Dartry, Clearun Study Centre, Mount Merrion, Riversdale in Monkstown, as well a property in Clontarf.
Other prime properties include its HQ at Harvieston in Dalkey, Co Dublin, Carraigburn University Centre, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, Northbrook, Terenure, Knapton House, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, the Anchor Youth Centre, Artane, Dublin 5, and Laurel Lodge Outdoor Pursuits Centre, Ballyknockan, Co Wicklow.
Also listed in the capital city is Crannton Catering Centre and Glenbeag Girls clubs, Dartry, Dublin, 6.
In Galway, where like Dublin property prices have soared, Opus Dei runs student halls at the Gort Ard University Centre, Salthill, and Rathmore Ros Geal University Residence at 19 University Road. Two properties are listed in Limerick, Castleville Study Centre, Castletroy, and Overdale Study Centre, on the main Ennis Road. Opus Dei also numbers the Ballabert Catering and Educational Centre, Ballygluinin, Co Galway, among its properties, and an apartment in Belfast.
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