National Trust to save disused churches urged

CONSERVATIONISTS are threatening to occupy disused churches in a bid to prevent their sale to private investors for millions of euro.

In what would be a copycat action of efforts in the Archdiocese of Boston, where Catholics are staging sit-ins to prevent such sales, the National Heritage Council (NHCI) has warned it too will occupy churches if the State does not set up a National Trust to save them.

"The people's money built these churches and the State cannot sit idly by and allow the churches to sell them off for huge profits when they could be turned into community centres that would provide vital services for parishioners," said NHCI secretary Damien Cassidy.

The NHCI has been campaigning for years to stop the multi-million euro sale of Catholic, Protestant and Presbyterian churches by religious orders to the private sector. The most recent Dublin examples include:

St George's Church of Ireland in Temple Street: €1.25m.

The Jesuit Hall in Earlsfort Terrace: €15 million.

Mr Cassidy is particularly upset about the sale of St Michael's and John's Church in Essex Street to the Office of Public Works some years ago for €425,000.

"They spent €7.5 million turning this church into a Viking Centre and it is now derelict because the whole scheme collapsed," Mr Cassidy added.

He believes the State should set up a National Trust to ensure the remaining churches are saved. "At the moment they can just be deconsecrated at the behest of a bishop and the people who paid for these churches have no say," Mr Cassidy said. There was uproar recently in Cork when a developer who bought the Friary Chapel off Sullivan's Quay knocked it down without planning permission. Cork City Council has not yet decided what action to take, if any, against the developer.

Irish Episcopal Conference, spokesperson Martin Long said the Catholic Church fully complies with all statutory requirements in relation to planning and development.

Environment Minister Dick Roche's spokesman said: "we have engaged consultants to look at the whole area of setting up a National Trust."

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