Catholic parishes may take two refugee families, says Bishop

Kevin Doran rules out opening church premises for accommodation

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin has said Catholic parishes in Ireland may go beyond the pope’s call to house one refugee family and take in two. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin has said Catholic parishes in Ireland may go beyond the pope’s call to house one refugee family and take in two. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Catholic parishes in Ireland may go beyond calls by Pope Francis to house a refugee family and take two each, Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran has said.

He appeared to rule out the prospect of opening churches for accommodation, but said priests across Sligo and Roscommon had been contacted with a view to compiling an inventory of the suitable accommodation available for refugees.

“I’m sending out a message to the priests with an information form which I’m inviting them to make available to parishioners, which would seek to begin to identify places that may be available- be it a vacant house or a granny flat,” he told RTÉ radio.

Properties on the list will then be assessed to ensure they are of an adequate standard, and church officials in Elphin will also liaise with State agencies and local authorities to identify suitable spaces.

“If you have two families it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that with local support from other families who might not necessarily be providing the accommodation and local businesses, that very decent provision could be made for them,” he said.

“The one thing I would be conscious of is people are inclined to look initially and say ‘why not open the churches?’, and of course in an immediate emergency you would do something like that but the reality is there aren’t showers and toilets and bedrooms and privacy in church buildings,” said the bishop.

“What you’re looking to do is welcome people in a manner that is consistent with their own dignity. Ireland has long since recognised that direct provision is not the way forward, we should be looking to try and create a situation where a family unit can stay together.”

Gesture of solidarity

Speaking yesterday, the pope called on “every religious community” to take in one migrant family in a gesture of solidarity, and said the Vatican itself would be welcoming two.

There are a total of 1,360 Catholic parishes across the Ireland. Church authorities have not yet announced a unified plan of action in response to the pope’s suggestion.

Bishop Doran says he has already received representations from people willing to help out with accommodation, and thinks Ireland’s action towards the migrant crisis may inform future best practice regarding the country’s current domestic homelessness.

“Accommodation is there, in many cases it’s underutilised, especially in the west of Ireland, and I think there’s a genuine warmth in people’s hearts towards people in need.

“I think maybe if we do this and if we do it well, we may realise that we actually have the solution to our own homelessness crisis as well,” he said.

Addressing the issue over the weekend, Tánaiste Joan Burton said there need be “no upper limit” on the amount of people Ireland brings in following suggestions that the minimum threshold will be set at 1,800.

Responding to queries from The Irish Times, a spokesman for the Irish Bishops’ Conference said the issue of housing migrants can be dealt with individually by each of Ireland’s 26 dioceses, adding that the refugee crisis will be a “major” item of discussion at the autumn meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.