Church land is owned by the people and should be made available for housing if needed, according to the former Bishop of Killaloe.
It comes after the Government asked the Church to identify land or vacant buildings it owns that could be used to address the housing crisis.
In a letter to the Primate of All Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien asked whether the State could be give first-option to purchase land or buildings in key locations.
Noting recent comments made by Archbishop Martin about the need for “radical action” on the housing crisis, Minister O’Brien said identifying landbanks and vacant buildings will be key to the upcoming Housing for All plan.
The new long-term housing plan is being discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee this afternoon and is due to be published this week.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, the retired Bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh said the Church should be doing everything it can to help address the housing crisis.
“I would have always had the attitude that Church land is not private property,” he said. “Church land is land belonging to the people. The people involved in the Church.
“It is not belonging to the bishop or parish priests or that sort of thing. It is the people’s land and I think that anything the Church can do to help the housing situation I think it should be there and trying to do it.”
He said the church has been involved in housing in Ireland for many years – noting that his own parish had “dedicated a great deal of land either free of charge or at a nominal sum to housing” in recent years.
“Land owned by the Church is not really owned by bishops or priests,” he said. “It is land that belongs to the people and its use should be to the benefit of the people.
“Obviously different dioceses or different religious congregations have different needs - whether that is the primary needs of education or health or housing - but the general principle is that the Church should be in there because there is no doubt that we are in a crisis situation in Ireland for housing.
“It is just not good enough for a country that is relatively wealthy that we have so many people homeless or living in unfit conditions.”
Also on the show, Labour Housing spokesperson Senator Rebecca Moynihan said that accessing Church land will not the solve the problems facing the country.
“In relation to accessing the Church’s land, the problem the State has isn’t a lack of land, but it is actually delivery and housing affordability,” she said.
She said some of the measures that are expected to be included in the Housing for All plan are welcome although she noted that the detail needs to be fleshed.
She warned however that the rumoured target of building 33,000 new homes by 2025 won’t put a dent in the problem – with the ESRI calling for that number of new units to be delivered every year.
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