Ireland's Catholic Bishops have agreed to respond to Minister Darragh O'Brien's request that the Church identify property it owns that could help tackle the housing crisis within days.
The commitment comes after members of the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference discussed Mr O’Brien’s request at their autumn general meeting which concluded on Wednesday.
A statement said the Bishops discussed the crisis of housing and homelessness and reflected on how it is “a key social justice challenge for this generation”.
It added: “Catholic social teaching recognises that housing is a universal human right, with corresponding responsibilities on society to honour that right.”
The correspondence from Mr O’Brien was discussed and the statement says: “It is the bishops’ intention to respond to the Minister’s letter over the coming days.”
Minister for Housing Mr O'Brien wrote to the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, in August.
He said he was writing to him about the housing crisis and "the scope for potential engagement with my Department and the Catholic Church to help address the issue".
Mr O’Brien said: “I know the Church is keenly aware of the scale of the problem and the need for strong action”.
He highlighted comments made by Archbishop Martin and other senior clergy on the need for action to address the housing crisis.
The Minister emphasised how identifying landbanks and vacant buildings to use for homes will be a key part of the Government’s Housing for All plan.
Mr O’Brien’s letter acknowledged the independence of the church in managing its property portfolio as well as how addressing the housing crisis is primarily the State’s duty.
However, the Minister noted that some dioceses have been engaging with local authorities in relation to unused land banks and properties.
He wrote: “I hope that this can be replicated on a broader scale to help make a contribution towards addressing the national housing crisis.”
Mr O'Brien suggested the State could get the first option to purchase land or buildings that are being sold, with the church working with organisations such as councils, Approved Housing Bodies and the Land Development Agency (LDA).
The letter, and the initial acknowledgement from the Church have been released under Freedom of Information legislation.
Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, the executive secretary of the Irish Episcopal Conference, responded to Mr O’Brien on August 31st saying that Archbishop Martin had asked him to acknowledge receipt of the letter.
Mr McGuinness wrote: “As you will know, in line with Catholic social teaching, the Bishops have previously highlighted the crisis of housing and homelessness as one of the key social justice challenges of the present time.
“They recognise that all must work towards resolving this crisis and have stressed the need for radical action in order to alleviate the problem.”
He said that as a result Mr O’Brien’s letter would be circulated to the other Bishops and it would be discussed at this week’s meeting. It was among the items on the agenda over the last two days.
The Bishops were also said to have “reflected on the heartbreak suffered by many thousands of families throughout Ireland who experienced the death of a loved one during the Covid-19 pandemic” and the “additional distress caused by the restrictions which… limited the number of people who could mourn together”.
They agreed that they would make a pilgrimage to Knock next month for a Mass in memory of people who died during the pandemic.