Dromore will be expected to raise close to £3 million from the sale of a house and just over 27 acres of land as it continues to pay for the huge cost of abuse carried out within the diocese, including by the notorious former school principal Malachy Finegan.
The Bishop’s House and the acres of land are within Newry City limits, are wrapped around the playing fields and grounds of St Colman’s College and are close to the A38 bypass and the A1.
While the selling agents have not listed a price for the B1 listed mansion and the land, conservative estimates suggest it could sell for approximately £100,000 an acre, close to £3m and potentially more.
In a letter to parishioners, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the apostolic administrator in the absence of a bishop to head the diocese, sets out the “steps that the diocese has been taking to meet its financial and other responsibilities for the awful sins and crimes of abuse in the past”.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council are currently crafting its 2030 local development with housing, including social and affordable, identified as one of the likely priorities in its main hubs of Newry and Downpatrick.
Dromore, without a bishop following the 2018 resignation of Bishop John McAreavey, has already paid approximately £2.5m in legal settlements following abuse claims and set aside a similar amount for a redress scheme, mainly for those who encountered Finegan at St Colman’s and various parishes.
Finegan was principal of St Colman’s until 1987, then was later dispatched to two parishes, including Hilltown. He died in 2002 without being charged with any offences.
The parochial house on the village’s Castlewellan Road was damaged in an arson attack earlier this year. Vacant for some years, it cannot be sold off as it is held in trust, the same as property and land in all the individual parishes.
Archbishop Martin, conscious remaining diocesan funds are limited, said he has been in discussions over the directors of the Dromore Diocesan Trust about identifying assets that could be sold "to meet out existing and ongoing safeguarding responsibilities".
Following a study, the lands at Armagh were identified for sale to finance the liabilities of the diocese.
"Given their proximity to the amenities of Newry City Centre and to various educational and retail facilities, we understand that sections of the land would likely be very suitable for residential development in order to help meet the identified social and private housing need in the Newry area," the archbishop said.
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In a statement, the council said: "From the information provided it would appear that the site is not zoned for any specific purpose in the statutory plan. It falls within a Local Landscape Policy Area designated to protect the specific natural and built features of the site, including the local and wider setting, including the Bishop’s House, significant mature trees and vegetation.”
Selling agents O'Connor Kennedy Turtle, while not providing a price for the acreage, the two storey listed building and gate house - accessed currently via a private road for St Colman's - said it "enjoys location to the northern fringe of the city and benefits from an elevated setting" well above the Newry River and Canal.
In his letter to parishioners outlining why the diocese needs to sell, Archbishop Martin said: "I once more apologise unreservedly for the hurt and damage caused to victims and survivors of any priest or church representative acting under its authority.
"Such behaviour towards children and vulnerable people was and remains abhorrent, inexcusable, and indefensible. I also apologise to the people of the diocese who have felt that their trust in the church was betrayed and that they were badly let down."