Religious congregations may gift properties to State
List of properties nationwide to be drawn up for Minister for Housing Simon Coveney
Minister for Housing Simon Coveney: “We had very pragmatic discussions, and there is clearly a generosity and willingness among the congregations around donating lands and buildings.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Minister for Housing Simon Coveney says he is “optimistic” that a number of religious congregations may be able to donate property which can help to meet the current housing crisis.
Mr Coveney says he expects to receive a list of available property later this week from representatives of Catholic congregations, as he prepares to publish the Government’s housing strategy .
Speaking to The Irish Times after the meeting, Mr Coveney said discussions with some 40 national representatives of 16 religious congregations in Galway on Friday were “very positive”.
“We had very pragmatic discussions, and there is clearly a generosity and willingness among the congregations around donating lands and buildings,” he said.
“They have said they will put a list together of potential available properties nationwide, and I’ll put a team from my department together to look at them in detail and visit them.”
During his visit Mr Coveney viewed the former Magdalene laundry on Galway’s Forster Street, which the Mercy congregation has offered under a 99-year lease to the Cope Galway agency as a refuge for victims of domestic violence.
“There may be donations and there may be other opportunities, and we are looking at transfer of ownership rather than selling,” Mr Coveney said, adding he “didn’t want to overplay” the impact on resolving the current housing crisis.
“Essentially, it will be gifting to the State, as the orders would like to see such buildings they used being occupied for the public good and social need,” he said.
“These are people who have their hearts in the right place and are anxious to be generous,” he said. “Many of the women attached to these orders spent half of their lives and more working for charitable organisations, and many of these congregations have far fewer members now than before.”
Sr Frances Crowe of the Presentation Sisters said the Galway meeting was organised at the Minister’s request, through the Conference of Religious of Ireland.
It is in a building once held by the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd that was surrendered by the congregation to Dublin City Council on condition it be used to accommodate vulnerable adults.
It was there Sr Frances and other members of religious congregations told the Minister they were anxious to help with resolving the housing crisis.
“A lot of congregations have properties they are trying to put to good use and which are no longer needed, but they are facing a lot of obstacles in the way,” she said.
“We asked him if he could do something about it. The need is so great. We have lots of properties we would very gladly give.”
Their frustration centred on regulations to do with “planning, the environment, procurement. It’s slowing down the process from beginning to end”.
As he was to be in Galway last Friday to open 15 apartments built by social housing agency Cluaid, it was agreed the congregations would meet the Minister there to advance matters.
Their meeting with Mr Coveney was “simply a response in good faith” to the current housing crisis, Sr Frances said.