Charity must pay rates due to having ‘advancement of religion’ goals

Organisation has Bible at heart of work to alleviate poverty in developing countries

The High Court had been asked to determine whether the Oireachtas intended the meaning of ‘charitable purposes’ to include the ‘advancement of religion’.

The High Court had been asked to determine whether the Oireachtas intended the meaning of ‘charitable purposes’ to include the ‘advancement of religion’.

 

An evangelical Christian charity helping alleviate poverty in developing countries must pay its annual €4,000 rates bill in Dublin, the High Court has ruled.

Because one of the charity’s purposes is the “advancement of religion”, it is not entitled to an exemption from those rates, the High Court has ruled.

Tearfund Ireland Ltd is a faith-based organisation with offices at Ulysses House, Foley Street.

It is a registered charity and part of its stated purpose is that anyone working for it in alleviating poverty must accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God and “want to introduce the people whom they serve to that fullness of life which comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone”.

In 2019, a Valuation Tribunal ruled it was exempt from rates as a charitable organisation.

The Valuation Commissioner, whose role under the aegis of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, is to independently value all commercial and industrial properties in the country, was unhappy with this decision.

As a result, the High Court was asked to determine whether the Oireachtas intended the meaning of “charitable purposes” to include the “advancement of religion”.

The Commissioner argued, among other things, that, since 1914, the Irish courts had consistently ruled, when interpreting rating statutes for charitable purposes, it did not include the advancement of religion.

The exclusion of advancement of religion from the definition of “charitable purposes” was consistent with the intention of rating law generally that all ratepayers should bear the burden fairly and equally, it was also argued.

Tearfund argued the Valuation Act of 2001 made new provisions for properties that were to be exempt and had abolished previous provisions and this meant much of the earlier case law was no longer relevant.

It was also argued there had been a wide definition of “charitable purpose” for 130 years.

Mr Justice Robert Barr ruled against the Valuation Tribunal, saying it was not correct in law in holding that the meaning intended by the Oireachtas to be assigned to charitable purposes under the 2001 Act included the “advancement of religion”.

The Tribunal was also incorrect to find that the advancement of religion is a charitable purpose for the purposes of the 2001 Act.

In a separate judgment this week, the judge ruled both sides should pay their own costs.

He was satisfied there was sufficient public interest in the outcome of the appeal to make it just that each party should bear their own costs.