Catholic Church properties may be used to house Ukrainian refugees

‘I’d like to able to bring somebody in,’ says Archbishop as he appeals to parishioners for help

The Catholic Church is exploring whether its properties could be used to house refugees fleeing from the war in Ukraine.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic primate of All Ireland, said on Wednesday that "in all our parishes we have invited our parish pastoral councils and finance councils and the priests to consider if there are properties that we could make available for Ukrainian families".

This included unused school buildings and halls, he said.

However the Archbishop said that this was “in the early stages of scoping” and initial contact had been made with the relevant Government department.

“I think that in the coming days and weeks there’ll be a lot of activity on the ground” with parishes “at the forefront of this.”

He said the church was “modelling what we’re hoping our parishioners will also do in their own homes” and he was exploring “a possibility” of offering a place to stay in his own residence. “I’d like to able to bring somebody in,” he said.

Speaking alongside Archbishop Martin, the Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop John McDowell, said he had registered to host a refugee through the UK government's sponsorship scheme and were encouraging parishioners to do the same.

He said the Church of Ireland would also examine its vacant properties but the “emphasis” would be on clergy’s homes.

“By far the numbers of properties owned by churches are those that are lived in by clergy and by others and that is by far and away the quickest the most direct route towards providing accommodation for people,” he said.

In their annual joint St Patrick's Day message, delivered in Armagh on Wednesday, the Archbishops said they were "deeply disturbed and saddened" by the war in Ukraine and the ongoing humanitarian crisis and called for an immediate ceasefire.

They offered prayers for the people of Ukraine and praised the “heartening” support shown for its people from across Ireland.

Cross-border cooperation

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Archbishops strongly criticised the response shown by the UK government, which they said should be as “equally generous” in welcoming refugees as Ireland and other EU counties.

Ireland has put in place a temporary directive to allow Ukrainians to move through the EU as EU citizens, whereas the UK has a more complex, visa-based system.

Both Archbishops said they believed “more could be done” by the UK government, and Archbishop McDowell said he would “urge it to do more now.

"The Home Office is not a notoriously sympathetic department and has maybe difficulty processing these matters, but we would certainly urge them to do as much as other countries in the European Union have done and to do that with a good grace and a good heart and to do it quickly," he said.

"We need to get real," said Archbishop Martin. "There are going to be a lot of people who are in need of our help, so by appealing to the UK government in Westminster we're also indirectly appealing to our own Assembly and to the Executive here to look at ways there might be a free flow of people that wish to receive refuge in Northern Ireland.

"I think perhaps the United Kingdom has said let's think about the bureaucracy and see how many doors we can open. That's the wrong way round.

"I really feel that where there is a humanitarian disaster of this scale in Europe then it behoves all of us to respond generously and urgently to the need," he said.

Both church leaders also called for full north-south cooperation regarding issues like access to interpreters, schools and teachers, and for Ukrainians to be allowed to travel across the Border without the need for checks.

“This should be made an urgent cross-border cooperation issue,” Archbishop Martin said.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times