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Catholic Church to 'reflect' on O'Brien's request to use land for housing

The Government last week launched its ‘Housing for All’ plan which aims to create 300,000 new homes by the end of the decade.

Archbishop Eamon Martin
Archbishop Eamon Martin
Image: PA Images

ARCHBISHOP EAMON MARTIN has responded to a letter from Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien asking to identify Church lands that could be used for housing saying he will “reflect” upon it. 

O’Brien last week wrote to the Catholic Church asking Martin, Catholic Primate of All Ireland, to identify land or vacant units that could be transferred to the State. 

O’Brien noted that a number of Local Authorities had entered talks with dioceses about unused land and properties in Church ownership, and said he hoped these discussions could be scaled up as part of a wider national drive to provide housing. 

Acknowledging O’Brien’s letter, Archbishop Martin said he intends to “reflect” on issues raised by O’Brien with fellow Bishops at October’s Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. 

The Government last week launched its ‘Housing for All’ plan which aims to create 300,000 new homes by the end of the decade, with more than half to come from the private sector.

O’Brien has come under fire in recent days over plans to exempt a large number of developments from a key provision of ‘Housing for All’. 

The Business Post reported on Sunday that the Government could lose out on up to 10,000 affordable and social homes from developers after it was confirmed that a last-minute exemption was granted over fears of legal challenges. 

Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, developers currently need to use 10% of zoned residential land for social and affordable homes.

That requirement is increasing from 10% to 20% and will now also include provision for affordable and cost-rental housing, however it will not apply to developers who bought land between 2015 and 2021.

The Government has included a sunset clause in its housing plan, which means from 2026 all developers will be obliged to provide affordable homes, but those who secure planning permission within the next five years will still be exempt. 

O’Brien said the decision to exempt the land from the new measures to promote affordable housing delivery was made on foot of “very strong advice from the department”. 

Social Democrats spokesperson for Housing Cian O’Callaghan TD has called on O’Brien to explain why he didn’t seek legal advice over the exemption. 

O’Callaghan referenced a 1999 Supreme Court decision which found that the Part V provision of affordable housing is constitutionally sound. 

Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin on Monday published a Bill that would remove the Part V affordable housing exemption for developers who purchased land between September 2015 and July 2021.

Commenting on the exemption, O’Broin said: “This will result in the loss of thousands of affordable homes across the state, including in sites like Poolbeg in Dublin City and Clonburris in my own constituency.”

“The Bill I am introducing is a simple piece of legislation, which removes this exemption to developers.

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“Without this change being made to the Affordable Housing Act, the government capitulation to developers and investors has effectively rendered the Part V increase to 20 per cent meaningless as it will not start to appear until after 2026.

“Five years is a long time to wait for those who have already been struggling for years to access affordable housing and this is another example of bad policy from a government that clearly doesn’t understand the urgent level of housing need out there.”

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