An Irish priest and social activist has said the Church should use its extensive land holdings to curb the country’s housing crisis.

Driving the news

The well-known Jesuit Peter McVerry told the Irish Catholic that the Church can make a “valuable contribution” to curbing homelessness.

“Housing and homelessness are political problems and it has to be solved politically.

“It’s not for the churches or charities to solve the housing problem, though they can play a role.

“I would say churches should look at what land they have particularly and to see if some can be used for social housing”, the activist said.

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Go deeper

A 2011 Irish Examiner investigation found that, at the height of its influence, the Irish Catholic Church owned or occupied more than 10,700 properties and controlled nearly 6,700 religious and educational sites.

That was nearly one in every hundred properties in the country.

Although the Church’s property portfolio has decreased in recent years – most notably as a consequence of compensation for sex abuse survivors – it is still thought to be valued in the billions of euros.

McVerry alluded to these “vast tracts of land” the Church still owns and said they should be used for social housing.

“I say that because you can’t criticise the Government unless you’re doing something yourself”, the priest explained.

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Activist McVerry also referred to new figures that revealed the Irish Government spent over three million euros just last month on emergency hotel and private accommodation for asylum seekers.

That was as a consequence of failures in the direct provision reception scheme.

“I think what it highlights is that the failure of the Government to provide housing is an extremely expensive failure – all that money being spent does not create one single extra house and is money that is simply being transferred to the private sector without gain to the State whatsoever”, McVerry lamented.

“This Government have really got to start building social housing on a massive scale far more than they envisaged”, the priest added.

He warned that until a change in priorities comes, the Government’s effort in that direction “is going to be increasingly expensive with no result at the end of it”.

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