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Church should consider divesting some parish centres to wider community, says Cavan priest

By Cian Molloy - 30 December, 2019

Dozens of community facilities remain closed because of insurance issues (Stockphoto via PXHere).

A Cavan parish priest hopes that a dispute over the use of a church-owned community centre will be fully resolved in the new year.

Ballyconnell Community Centre opened in the 1990s and was primarily used as an indoor soccer venue, while also hosting a wide range of activities organised by local clubs and societies.

However, it was reliant on the services of a voluntary caretaker, who maintained the building as if it were his own home, said parish priest, Fr Oliver O’Reilly, and with the loss of that volunteer the centre has had to be closed.

Several unhappy locals have been protesting about the closure and earlier this month they were threatening to picket the venue. Fr O’Reilly told CatholicIreland.net that he believes the issues affecting the Ballyconnell centre are affecting parish centres and community centres across the country.

“There is a big issue with insurance,” he said. “Once a claim is made, then your insurance premiums double or treble and it becomes impossible economically to run these centres. Before the centre can open, we will need to appoint a full-time caretaker and come up with a business plan of some kind. I would hope that that can be put in place in the first half of the New Year.”

In Ballyconnell’s case, the community centre is owned by St Felim’s Diocesan Trust, which is the property-management arm of the Kilmore Diocese. “There are people who object to these community centres being owned by the Church, in the same way as there are people who object to the fact that so many schools are church-owned,” said Fr O’Reilly. “That is an issue that the Church needs to look at: should it divest itself of these properties and facilities?

“The problem is that you can’t just hand them over to anybody. You need to be confident that they will be properly maintained for the good of the community. You can’t just be throwing the keys around and letting anybody in. In today’s insurance environment that is just too risky.”

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