Changes in Church of Ireland diocesan councils have reduced archbishop’s powers, warn supporters

Members of clergy and laity vote on new Bill at first synodal meeting since pandemic, following 18 months of mounting bitterness within the church

The powers of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson have been significantly reduced, according to his supporters, following a meeting attended by members of the clergy and laity at which the church leadership was defeated in each of 15 votes.

The changes were made at the combined synods of the united dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough at a meeting in Dundrum in the Taney Hall parish hall on Tuesday night — the first such in-person gathering since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The effect will be the removal of much of the authority from the office of archbishop,” Archdeacon of Dublin David Pierpoint, a supporter of the archbishop, warned, a view echoed by other supporters of the archbishop.

The changes, brought forward as a Bill to the combined synods, were the fruit of “more than a year’s work by diocesan councils”, according to proposer Robert Neill. The two, one representing Dublin, and one representing Glendalough, will manage all the archdiocese’s funds and property.


The diocesan councils will remain subject “to the overarching authority and jurisdiction of the archbishop in respect of ministry”, according to the text, and will keep “an appropriate balance” regarding gender, ethnicity, skills and cultural and social background.

Under the changes, the membership of the two diocesan councils will change, with the number sitting falling from 45 to 35, but the existing number ratio between Dublin members and those from the smaller Glendalough diocese will be maintained.

In his speech, Mr Neill paid tribute to the members of the working group which has led the work, especially senior counsel Lyndon MacCann, who he said had given a huge amount of time and research to the undertaking.

With the changes, the two diocesan councils will be able to “to meet the six principles of governance, including working effectively and being accountable and transparent”, as required under the Charities Act 2009.

The meeting follows 18 months of mounting bitterness within the Church of Ireland in Dublin, which erupted following disagreements over the future of the Church of St George and St Thomas in Dublin’s city centre.

The changes to the archbishop’s powers come into effect next January. They were supported by a big majority of the laity and a majority of clergy present at the Taney Hall meeting, which was presided over by the archbishop.

Proposing the changes, Mr Neill said they followed legal advice that had been given in June 2021 about compliance with updated charities legislation. The United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough is a registered charity.

“What we have been operating to date in diocesan councils does not really work in accordance with the Government’s legislation,” he said. Rector of Killiney Rev William Olhausen, who seconded the proposal, said it was “an attempt to comply with the Charities Act in the best way we can”.

Supporting the Bill, Mary White of Kilternan parish in Dublin said: “A huge amount of funding comes out of your pockets as parishioners through the parishes. We as trustees are responsible for that money.” The trustees must “must abide by the law and meet its requirements as much as we can. We’re duty bound to do that.”

Also in support, Geoffrey Perrin of Rathmichael parish, Co Wicklow, said the Bill “has been looked at by a panel of experts” and that “most of the issues raised have been answered”. He urged delegates to “vote for the Bill and let’s move forward”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times