Catholic Primate yet to receive letter from Minister about land for housing

‘Catholic social teaching recognises housing is a universal human right,’ says spokesman

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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Catholic Primate Eamon Martin has not received correspondence sent last week by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien asking the church to identify property it owns that could potentially be used for housing.

A spokesman for Archbishop Martin would, on receiving the letter, would “consider its content carefully and will, in consultation with his brother bishops, reflect on it during the autumn general meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in October”.

Mr O’Brien yesterday said he was hopeful the church would provide land for the State to build homes in the future as he confirmed he had sent the letter.

It acknowledged the independence of the church in managing its property portfolio and noted that addressing the crisis was primarily the State’s duty, but asked the church to identify land or vacant buildings that could be considered as part of a wider solution to the problem.

The archbishop’s spokesman said “the crisis of housing and homelessness is a key social justice challenge of this generation”.

“Catholic social teaching recognises that housing is a universal human right, with corresponding responsibilities on societies to honour that right,” he added.

“Therefore, we must all work towards resolving this crisis in the interest of the common good. In recent years, the faith sector has been particularly vocal in calling for radical action from the State in order to alleviate the housing and homelessness problem.”

Mr O’Brien made the request as work continues to finalise the Government’s Housing for All plan, which is expected to be published later this week. He said the purpose of the letter was to “open up a discussion” with the Catholic Church about it supporting the State in building housing.

“They have significant land holdings across the State. Some local authorities have been dealing with churches in different parishes, and land holdings have been freed up for housing,” the Minister said on Monday.

“We would like a better understanding of what is out there and see how we can partner with the church in developing these lands.”

‘Good engagement’

Asked if he wanted the State to have first call on land the church has available for sale, he responded: “I want to have the discussions with them first. In fairness, I have seen that some approved housing bodies have had some good engagement with the churches.”

Lands and properties owned by the Catholic Church in Ireland have previously been valued in the billions, but the ownership is not straightforward due to each parish being a separate legal entity in civil and canon law. Dioceses, schools and congregations also have their own legal structures.

The Minister said there was currently no overarching policy in relation to church lands and it was often down to the individual parish or religious order as to how to dispose of their lands.

He suggested the State could get first option to purchase any land or buildings being sold, with the church working with organisations such as councils, approved housing bodies and the Land Development Agency.

“It could potentially be the State purchasing land or partnering with the Catholic Church. In fairness the church, through their own ethos, want to be able to provide facilities to help in that regard. There is vast potential,” he said.

In October 2018, after the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland, the Catholic bishops launched A Room at the Inn?, a pastoral letter on housing and homelessness that called for housing to be recognised “as a human right” and that it “should be safe, affordable and appropriate”.

It said “provision of housing cannot be left solely to the market” and “should not be treated as any other commodity”.