Saturday 16 December 2017

Sale of parochial properties 'not an option'

Conor Kane

THE diocese of Ferns says it owns just five pieces of property and cannot touch parochial houses around its domain as they are owned by individual parishes.

Properties owned by the cash-poor diocese include the former bishop's palace.

However, despite the diocese's financial plight, the sale of parochial houses and properties around the diocese to raise funds for compensation payments has been ruled out as they are in the ownership of parishes. According to a spokesperson, parish houses are not a viable option when it comes to raising money.

"We respect the ownership of the parish assets," said Fr John Carroll. "Parish assets don't even come into this."

The diocese actively examined the viability of selling some of its most valuable assets during the economic boom, but that option has been stymied by the slump in property values. Fr Carroll confirmed last night that no properties were sold by Ferns at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

However, disposal of assets still hasn't been ruled out and may be re-examined if the market improves. The diocese owns the 19th century diocesan headquarters -- formerly known as the Bishop's Palace -- at Summerhill in Wexford. A sell-off of the headquarters was reported as being "a distinct possibility" in 2005, when compensation bills were mounting for Ferns.

At the time, the house was conservatively estimated to be worth between €1m and €2m but that value will have fallen dramatically in the last two years. The diocese has taken out a mortgage of €1.2m on this property -- to fund compensation and legal costs -- resulting in repayments of €120,000 per year for 20 years.

It can afford to pay half of that amount but says it needs to find another source for the remaining €60,000 per annum -- hence the appeal to parishes.

Meanwhile, Ferns also owns St Peter's College in Wexford town. The former seminary is used by Carlow Institute of Technology and it too was the subject of sale speculation some years ago.

Active negotiations were said to have been in train between the diocese and the college about a purchase in 2005, but didn't amount to a deal.

Other assets held by the diocese are 19 acres of college playing fields at Coolcotts on the edge of Wexford town; a 15-acre parcel of agricultural land on the Rosslare Road; and a disused house in Wexford.

Irish Independent

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