Opus Dei charity planning multimillion-euro apartments scheme in south Dublin

Glenavy Educational Foundation eyes development of 4.67-acre site at Nullamore House

Glenavy wants consent for 215 apartments in five blocks ranging in height from four to eight storeys, and consent for four apartments in Nullamore House itself and another 16 in proposed extensions. File photograph: Getty

Glenavy wants consent for 215 apartments in five blocks ranging in height from four to eight storeys, and consent for four apartments in Nullamore House itself and another 16 in proposed extensions. File photograph: Getty

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A charity in Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organisation, is advancing plans to build hundreds of apartments in south Dublin in a project property industry figures believe has a potential value of €120 million.

Glenavy Educational Foundation, which supports Opus Dei activities, is preparing to seek fast-track planning approval to develop a 4.67-acre site at Nullamore House in Milltown.

The site, opposite the Dropping Well pub, is used as an educational centre for members of Opus Dei, a global movement of strict Catholics with a reputation for secrecy.

Opus Dei, which claims “circa 500” members in Ireland, had a university residence for its members at Nullamore House for many years.

An inspector’s report published by An Bord Pleanála shows that Glenavy has held pre-application talks about the site. It wants consent for 215 apartments in five blocks ranging in height from four to eight storeys, and consent for four apartments in Nullamore House itself and another 16 in proposed extensions. The plan includes car and bicycle parking, a gym, a function room, a screening room, lounge facilities and a creche.

Property industry figures said the project, if realised, would be highly lucrative with a likely value of €100 million or more. One senior estate agent said the site alone could command €25 million simply on the basis of planning approval being granted. The same person estimated that the gross development value, with all property sold, could be in the region of €120 million.

Barry O’Grady, a Glenavy director, had no comment on the financial side of the proposals. He said Glenavy supports charitable activities “inspired by” Opus Dei, including the provision of facilities for religious education.

“It is intended that funds arising from the project will be invested in an endowment fund to provide a stable income to support the organisation’s charitable projects into the future,” he said.

Mr O’Grady is a trustee also of Opus Dei Prelature Charitable Trust in Ireland and a director of University Hostels Ltd, the company that owns the Nullamore site and is donating it to Glenavy as part of the plan.

Proposal ‘in process’

Asked whether the site might be sold on to a developer if planning approval was granted, he replied: “Neither Glenavy nor Opus Dei will be the developer.”

As a charity Glenavy does not pay tax but University Hostels, though it is a not-for-profit company, is liable. Asked if the donation of the site was tax-driven, Mr O’Grady said conducting the process via Glenavy reflected “prudential” financial management.

“It allows for any proceeds arising to be handled transparently in accordance with the Charities regulatory authority’s governance code.”

Although the proposal was “in process at the moment”, he said a formal application to An Bord Pleanála was not imminent.

Property owners can seek fast-track planning approval from the board for housing projects comprising more than 100 units until next February.

The process, aimed at speeding up the delivery of housing, bypasses local authority planning procedures.

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