Church agencies move arouses discontent

 

A decision by the Catholic bishops to move more than 40 church agencies to their headquarters in Maynooth is leading to internal dissent and large-scale staff losses.

In the face of much opposition, the bishops are pressing ahead with the centralisation of all the bodies acting under their aegis in the Co Kildare town by next year.

In spite of protracted negotiations, however, the church has yet to reach agreement with staff opposed to the move. Other agencies which have struck a deal with the bishops are facing staff losses; the aid agency Tr≤caire, for example, is expected to lose 15 out of 20 staff in its home department, according to one source.

Other smaller agencies have also lost staff, and at least one commission, on the laity, has ceased to function.

Many of the losses are due to the reluctance of employees to commute or change house, but there is also unease about the greater control the bishops may be able to exert on agencies once they are situated in Maynooth. In addition, some agencies which deal directly with underprivileged groups say they will not be able to function effectively away from the city.

The move is part of a reorganisation of church structures designed to improve co-ordination and efficiency, according to Father Martin Clarke of the Catholic Communications Office, which was one of the first agencies to relocate.

"Saving money is not the prime motive. We want to create a greater synergy between the different agencies," he said. "Not everyone is a happy camper out of this, but it suits others very well."

The agencies affected include Tr≤caire; the marriage counselling service, Accord; the pregnancy advice centre, Cura; the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace; and the Irish Organisation for Prisoners Overseas. Most of the bodies are in Dublin, but others are in Athlone, Dundalk and other provincial centres.

The church says there will be no compulsory redundancies, and severance packages will be agreed with those not wishing to move.

Father Clarke said an announcement on what to do with the vacated premises would be made in the new year. The offices of Tr≤caire and the ICJP in Booterstown are located on valuable building land. Carr Communications, which shares the premises, holds a medium-term lease.

However, according to Mr Justin Kilcullen, director of Tr≤caire, the Booterstown land will be sold. He said the agency had received assurances that its independence would not be affected before agreeing to the move.

Father Clarke said there was extensive consultation before and after the decision to relocate.