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Church of Ireland General Synod: Housing an essential part of ministry, Synod agrees

13 May 2022


A new housing development in Limerick, Ireland, in February

A new housing development in Limerick, Ireland, in February

THE Synod wholeheartedly agreed that helping people affected by the housing crisis must be considered an essential part of the Church’s mission and ministry, after a motion proposed by the Church and Society Commission.

It asks the Representative Church Body and Standing Committee to work with parishes and dioceses to identify ways in which the Church can directly help those in need, and can assist the relevant authorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to respond to the crisis.

Neville Armstrong (Clogher), the former chair of the Rural Housing Association, told the Synod: “The perfect storm that has been Brexit, the pandemic, and now the threat of global warfare all conspire to cut off young families, single mothers, people living on the economic margins, from the opportunity to live in safety and comfort.

“We dream of building enduring, sustainable communities through social housing, but, every year, our targets are never met, and the gap between demand and supply grows ever wider.

“We, as a society, need to commit to increasing the development of new sheltered and supported accommodation that can help the vulnerable and reduce pressure on our social services and health care. This will mean approaching new ideas and new ways of doing things.”

Foremost among these was looking at alternative building technology, and making homes as energy efficient as possible: “I would argue that the Northern Ireland share of the proposed £3.8-billion Westminster Social Housing De-carbonisation Fund should be ring-fenced and used to bring about a house-building revolution and a welcome low-carbon future.”

He concluded: “We need to find ways to protect those most in need and demonstrate the importance of social cohesion and strong communities. We can do this with the compassion and forward thinking that this Church of Ireland has always demonstrated.”

The Revd Rob Clements (Dublin & Glendalough), seconding, said that there was no moral justification for the lack of housing in Ireland today. “This is a social and economic issue, but it is also a theological and pastoral one,” he said. “It is important that the Church should speak out and draw attention to those affected.”

The Church had a part to play and a moral obligation to act where possible, he said. “That does mean affirming that safe and stable — and might we even say satisfying — housing is something everyone should have a right to.

“It does mean keeping ourselves informed about housing policy and its impact. . . It does mean speaking out and making our political representatives accountable. It may also mean developing, highlighting, and supporting housing initiatives led by, or resourced by, communities of faith. It means encouraging dioceses and parishes to become more deeply involved in meeting local housing need and building community for all.”

Dr Damian Jackson, of the Irish Council of Churches (Visitor), said that a lot had changed in six months. A “ubiquitous vulnerability has emerged, with no parish unaffected. Many people have spoken to us about never having anticipated being homeless — it can just take one or two unfortunate events to result in someone losing their home.”

The Revd Colin McConaghie (Clogher) thought this a wonderful motion, and suggested working with Habitat for Humanity Ireland. For Canon Trevor Sargent (Cashel, Ferns & Ossory), it was an opportunity to lobby the government of Ireland, 50 years after the Kenny report on homelessness and housing. Subsequent governments had failed to enact recommendations of the report because of challenges in the courts: it needed the “strong voice of lobbyists and the Church” to see it implemented.

The Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt Revd David McClay, believed the issues around homelessness to be many and complex. He appealed to Synod to include the impact of addiction on homelessness.

The motion was carried unanimously.

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