Magdalene orders edge closer to windfall

Two Magdalene orders which have refused to contribute to the laundry redress scheme are one step closer to multi-million euro windfalls thanks to a land zoning change.

Dublin City Council has abandoned an attempt to place a highly restrictive zoning condition on schools, hospitals and institutional sites.

All these properties will now have the potential to be redeveloped by the orders as residential and commercial buildings if land parcels are no longer required for their current purpose.

This will particularly benefit gardens and gateway tracts and, in the case of the Sisters of Charity, improve the prospects for 108 acres it owns around the city. The council had wanted to preserve all institutional sites with a planning status that would keep them as public amenities, even if the orders were no longer using them.

However, this was challenged in the High Court by the Sisters of Charity who argued the proposal was a violation of a religious body’s constitutional right to manage its property without interference from the State. During the High Court case it emerged that up to 77% of the private sites earmarked for this preservation status were owned by religious entities. The council suggested the Sisters of Charity were spearheading what was tantamount to a class action on behalf of congregations.

However, the Defence Forces, the Health Service Executive and RTÉ also benefited.

The Sisters of Charity won an injunction against the original development plan. And at a special meeting of the council a relax zoning status was put on the land.

Some of the affected land belongs to the Sisters of Mercy and includes its properties at the Mater Hospital and nearby Temple Street.

However, earlier submissions by the Sisters of Charity suggests it will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

The order has identified undeveloped land in Donnybrook, Harolds Cross, Sandymount and Walkinstown which is excess to its needs.

In submissions it told the council its Walkinstown property, which adjoins one of its schools, should be redesignated for a higher-density commercial centre.

Similarly its headquarters in Sandymount and a large tract of green space behind Our Lady’s Hospice in Harolds Cross could also be redeveloped.

It also owns the St Vincent’s Hospital campus in Merrion, which was also affected by the zoning decision.

The order has separately refused to contribute to the Magdalene redress scheme and previously told Education Minister Rúairí Quinn that it could not afford to meet its cash commitments to the child abuse fund.

During the special development plan meeting efforts by individual councillors to place a cap on the amount of units that could be built on these lands were defeated at a vote.

These would have imposed a 20-unit per hectare cap on any developments, but this was voted down in favour of precedent from An Bord Pleanála that would allow three times the density.

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