Ihumātao dispute: Church demands Govt buy the land

A church group is wading into the debate about Ihumātao, demanding the land be returned to Māori. 

The Justice and Peace Commission of Catholic Diocese of Auckland is begging for some intervention. 

Spokesperson Reverend Chris Sullivan says the Government needs to take the land back first.

"Because it was the Government back in 1963 that confiscated the land illegally from Māori there and caused the issue in the first place."

Construction at the south Auckland site is on hold as attempts to resolve the matter continue. Protesters have been on the Fletcher-owned site for months, opposed to construction of new homes which local iwi signed off.

Jacinda Ardern has finally agreed to visit the south Auckland site, but hasn't said if that will happen before a resolution is found.

Sullivan says it's vital Ardern gets there soon.

"We would encourage the Prime Minister to visit the land, as we have done ourselves, and experience the deep spirituality associated both with the local Māori and the land itself."

In Treaty settlements with the Crown to date, private land hasn't been handed back. Fletcher bought the land a few years ago from a family that had owned it since it was originally taken in the 1800s.

"Claimants can make their own arrangements with the owners if both parties agree," Land Information NZ says on its site. "The Crown does not get involved in matters related to private land."

But Sullivan says the Government has very few options.

"We see the Government has a responsibility to take action, and probably that involves putting up money." 

Fletcher and Tainui have both rejected reports the latter was going to buy the land for about $39 million.

Protest leader Pania Newton has said it's not a Treaty issue, but a "cultural heritage/landscape issue" so shouldn't be subject to the usual rules that would block the Government getting involved.

"It deserves its own unique process," she said on Thursday.