The Catholic Primate, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has said that dioceses and parishes will be encouraged to take action in response to a Government request that the church identify property it owns which could help tackle the housing crisis.
In a letter to Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien, the archbishop is understood to have offered no specific Catholic Church land or buildings that could be used – pointing out that control of such properties lies with local charitable trusts.
He also raised questions over whether the Government’s housing delivery targets would meet demand.
But he told Mr O’Brien the church would continue to “play our part” in alleviating the suffering caused by the crisis.
As a result of the correspondence, The Irish Times understands Mr O’Brien will issue an instruction to local authorities as early as this week to engage with trusts that control church land in a bid to identify properties that could be used for housing.
The letter from the archbishop to Mr O’Brien comes after the Government request was discussed at the autumn general meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference last month.
Mr O’Brien first wrote to Archbishop Martin in August about “the scope for potential engagement” with the church to address the housing crisis.
His letter acknowledged the independence of the church in managing its property portfolio as well as how addressing the housing crisis is primarily the State’s duty.
But he also noted that some dioceses have been engaging with local authorities in relation to unused land banks and properties and expressed a hope that this “can be replicated on a broader scale to help make a contribution towards addressing the national housing crisis”.
In his response Archbishop Martin is understood to have welcomed the Government’s Housing for All plan as an “important step” in efforts to resolve the crisis. However, he also questioned if the target of delivering 33,000 homes per year would meet demand due to a backlog that has built up.
Sources with knowledge of the correspondence said the archbishop also set out church efforts to help with housing and homelessness including the work of organisations like Crosscare and the Peter McVerry Trust.
He told the Minister for Housing that, in response to his letter, “discussion and action” would be encouraged at a local level in the church.
He said church property was controlled by local charitable trusts and religious orders had similar arrangements.
The church would “continue to play our part” in helping those suffering from the crisis, he added.
Mr O’Brien responded by acknowledging the invaluable work of church organisations in relation to housing, and welcomed Archbishop Martin’s commitment to encourage local action.
He said he would send instructions to city and county councils to engage with their local church trusts on potential opportunities to work together to provide social and affordable homes. The goal is to open communication between local authorities and the organisations that control church land, but the instruction to the councils would be without prejudice to any decision by trusts on their portfolios.