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Pressure on church to gift sites is wrong, says archbishop


Archbishop Dermot Farrell. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Archbishop Dermot Farrell. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Archbishop Dermot Farrell. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin said it is “completely unacceptable” to pressure church organisations to gift sites and buildings into a “dysfunctional” housing system.

He said such a move “may do very little” for the “most vulnerable” but could enrich property developers.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell acknowledged homelessness and increasing rents are “an ongoing blight in Dublin” and added: “Everyone deserves the right to a key to their own front door. Homelessness isn’t inevitable.”

In an apparent criticism of the request to the Irish bishops in a letter last August from Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien – that the Catholic Church identify land or vacant buildings it owns that could be used to tackle the housing crisis – Dr Farrell said: “Gifting sites and buildings into a dysfunctional system may do very little to ease the accommodation needs of the most vulnerable.”

Some of the largest property sales in Dublin in recent years have come from the church and religious orders.

In October, the Irish bishops responded to the minister’s letter and said dioceses and parishes would be encouraged to identify property they own that could help tackle the housing crisis.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, writing on behalf of the Irish bishops, told Mr O’Brien the church would continue to “play our part” in alleviating the suffering caused by the housing crisis.

However, he also said control of properties lies with local charitable trusts.

Archbishop Farrell said Catholic dioceses, parishes and religious congregations had already made “land and buildings available, not only for housing but also for other civic amenities in addition to housing and community services which are directly delivered by such bodies”.

He said it made “more sense” for church organisations “that have a particular mission to the poor and disadvantaged, to engage on specific projects with local authority partners for specific housing outcomes”.

Charity trustees, under the law, he said, are required to apply their resources to their charitable objectives.

“It is completely unacceptable to put pressure on charity trustees to apply their assets to enrich property developers and builders, including the owners of international capital who are piling into the Irish housing market in search of super-normal profitable returns,” the archbishop said.

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The work of the church, he added, is “to achieve social justice, especially for the least well off and for our migrants. We will continue to seek an end to homelessness”.

The Archdiocese of Dublin sold its lands at Clonliffe College to the GAA in 2019 for €95m.

Money generated by the sale of the 31-acre site next to Croke Park was paid to the St Laurence O’Toole Diocesan Trust, acting on behalf of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

The proceeds of the sale have been earmarked for the funding of vocations and the ongoing formation of lay people and priests within Dublin diocese and are subject to restrictions under charities legislation and canon law.

The GAA has since sold the land to the international property group Hines at a profit.

Earlier this year, a proposed development of 1,614 rental housing units by Hines in the grounds of the former seminary in Clonliffe, which faced objections from local residents, was given the go-ahead by An Bord Pleanála.

The sale and development of all the lands at Clonliffe are taking place in four tranches, with the last two to be concluded next year.

Meanwhile, Sophia Housing, a charity founded by the religious order the Daughters of Wisdom, is building 200 homes for the homeless and vulnerable on lands previously owned by religious orders with €40m in state funding.

The plans include the redevelopment of the site of the Sacred Heart School in Portlaoise, Co Laois, for 42 homes.

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