Doubts raised over church lands plan

Coveney claim religious orders’ properties may be solution to crisis rejected by some

Sophia founder Jean Quinn, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney, Derek Fay and Nicole Hogan at  the Sophia housing complex on Sean McDermott Street.Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Sophia founder Jean Quinn, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney, Derek Fay and Nicole Hogan at the Sophia housing complex on Sean McDermott Street.Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Land and buildings held by religious orders are unlikely to provide a magic-bullet solution to the housing crisis, religious orders and figures in the property worlds argued yesterday.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said on Wednesday that he would be contacting the religious congregations over the coming 10 days to initiate a “direct conversation” about what they could do to help tackle the crisis.

“This comes up regularly – ‘the religious orders are sitting on land’ – but it’s not true,” said one estate agent source. “The biggest hoarder of land is [the National Asset Management Agency].”

The source, who has dealt with religious orders in the past and professes to know what lands are potentially available as opposed to what some people think may be available, says some orders have land but much of it is already assigned to ongoing usage, such as schools and playing fields.

Conversion problems

Some also have underused buildings but most are either protected structures or ones that could not easily be converted to living accommodation that would meet current standards and legal requirements.

Mr Coveney was speaking on Seán McDermott Street in Dublin after he opened a supported housing project there, providing accommodation to 17 couples and a single person. He said he hoped that religious orders could help contribute to easing the housing crisis.

“We will call all of the religious orders together to an event specially to talk about the contribution that they could make through the properties they either own or control,” said Mr Coveney.

The two church bodies that acted as umbrella groups for religious orders, the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionaries Union, decided recently to amalgamate as the Association of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland (AMRI), a process that is not yet complete.

A spokesman or spokeswoman for AMRI was not contactable yesterday.

Small congregations

Several individual orders contacted professed to be unaware of the Minister’s comments and referred queries to an external spokesman who had not, however, been briefed to answer questions.

Persons answering calls to the Sisters of Mercy and the Daughters of Charity said they were both now small congregations and no one was available to talk.

Brother Andrew Hickey of the Presentation Brothers said they too were now a small group but were engaged in helping provide accommodation for refugees.

He was not sure what the Minister had in mind, or whether the Brothers could help, but they would be “as keen to help out as anyone else”.

Fr Peter McVerry described Mr Coveney’s suggestion as “an excellent idea” and said he thought religious orders would want to “respond generously”.