Marriage guidance agency Accord faces monopoly claims from rival
The Catholic Church in Ireland has been accused of giving a monopoly to its own pre-marriage guidance service, Accord.
A rival privately-owned pre-marriage guidance agency, which has been operating for the past eight years, claims it is now being forced out of business after several dioceses stopped referring couples to its service.
Avalon Relationship Consultants said it believed dioceses had come "under pressure" to favour Accord over pre-marriage course providers not owned by the Church.
The claims came just days after it emerged Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, had withdrawn funding for Accord's pre-marriage courses, prompting suggestions the decision was linked to the Church's opposition to the same-sex marriage referendum.
Both the Government and Tusla have denied any such link.
Avalon owner David Kavanagh said that, at its height in 2010, the business was providing Catholic pre-marriage courses for 350 couples a month.
Couples who have used the service include former rugby star Brian O'Driscoll and his wife Amy Huberman.
"There is nothing on the Accord course that we haven't covered on our course," said Mr Kavanagh. "Then boom, the Church decided to ban me all over the country. I think my only crime was that I was making money, to be frank."
He alleged Church officials were "squashing all the competition" to the benefit of Accord, which was established in 1962 by the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference.
Mr Kavanagh alleged priests who were interested in working on Avalon courses were warned off doing so.
He also said some couples who had done the Avalon course were later told they would have to do an Accord one as well.
A spokesman for the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference said he was "unaware of any pressure on bishops concerning Accord courses".
He also said Accord had lost out on €3.6m in funding since 2010 due to cuts in Government grant aid.
Over half of its services are delivered on a voluntary basis.
Couples seeking to marry in the Catholic faith must undergo a Church-approved pre-marriage course, usually ranging in cost between €150 and €200 per couple.
Each individual bishop decides what pre-marriage course providers should be approved in their diocese.
Mr Kavanagh said the biggest blow to his business came last year when the Archdiocese of Dublin issued a letter to parishes stating it had never said Avalon courses were approved.
A spokeswoman for the Dublin Archdiocese confirmed a letter was issued last October as parishes were getting a lot of calls on the issue and required clarification. The same letter said the preferred pre-marriage courses in the diocese were those run by Accord Dublin.
"The priest marrying a couple has to ultimately satisfy himself that a couple coming to him for sacramental marriage are properly prepared - and he can receive guidance and advice on this from the diocese," the spokeswoman said.