Housing cannot be left to market, say bishops

Local authorities must once more ‘take responsibility’ for building affordable homes

State-owned land should be used for local authority-built housing and not given to private developers, while caps should be placed on the price of privately sold building land, Catholic bishops have declared.

Meanwhile, the bishops, speaking at the launch of the hierarchy's pastoral letter on housing and homelessness, A Room at the Inn?, said Ireland's wealthy have a moral obligation to pay taxes and not to exploit legal exemptions.

Bishop Kevin Doran, the acting chair of the Catholic Bishops' Council for Justice and Peace, said some argue currently that State-owned land would be best used by developers.

However, he said: “It should be made available to local authorities who then themselves would take responsibility, as they did in the past, for building houses that are affordable.


"I don't see why that can't be done again," said Bishop Doran, speaking in Maynooth, who said he objected to the idea that State-owned land should be "used for providing profit for commercial entities".

Fr Seán Donohoe of the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, which deals with many of the city’s homeless, said the Government “would nearly acknowledge” that it is “not on top” of the housing crisis.

Vacant properties

The Catholic Church is one of State’s biggest landowners, so “the church has to be part of the solution”, he said. Already “there are quite a number of church properties which are being used for that purpose.

“We have made recommendations here about the availability of vacant properties and vacant sites. We wouldn’t see ourselves as being excluded from the recommendations that we’re making ourselves,” he said.

In some places, this has happened already, he said, citing the decision of the Presentation Sisters on George’s Hill in Dublin 7 to “give over their big convent for sheltered housing and they live among them”.

Meanwhile, the Good Shepherd nuns gave over their premises in Kilkenny: "But more needs to happen" he said, "I would encourage other organisations to look at the property they have and see if could they do the same."

The bishops responded to last week’s Comptroller and Auditor General report, which found that one-in-four of Ireland’s wealthiest had paid less tax than the average industrial worker (earning just over €36,500) in 2015.

Obligation of rich

“Taxation is not intended to be a means for making the rich richer,” said Bishop Doran, adding that “there is a moral obligation” on the rich to share “ what is surplus to their own needs” with the less-fortunate.

It is up to the State to decide what that surplus should be, he said, adding that the church respects the right of people to earn reasonable profits: “The problem is when the profit becomes excessive.”

The housing crisis is not abating, the A Room at the Inn? pastoral letter argues, saying the effects it is having on society is "of urgent and deep concern" to the bishops.

Safe, affordable housing is a human right, but housing supply “cannot be left solely to the market” and “should not be treated in the same way as any other commodity”, they declared.

Government policy should recognise the rights of families and bring about greater equality in our society, they said. “The right to housing is respected, protected and advanced.”

The full pastoral letter is at catholicbishops.ie/2018/10/01/a-room-at-the-inn-bishops-pastoral-letter-on-housing-and-homelessness/

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times