Bord Pleanála says Development Requires Planning Permission, Overturning Council Decision – The Irish Times

Plans by the Church of Scientology to set up what it proclaims to be a drug rehabilitation centre in Co Meath village have received a setback with An Bord Pleanála ruling that it is not exempt from planning permission.

Construction works are nearing completion on the controversial development in Ballivor, which had received an exempted development declaration from Meath County Council on plans by Narconon in October 2016.

Narconon is an organisation owned and controlled by the Church of Scientology which purports to help rehabilitate drug users through interventions including the use of saunas and the intake of vitamins.

An Bord Pleanála has now overturned the council’s decision, ruling that the development does need planning permission.

The ruling was made in response to two appeals from the Ballivor Community Group and Trim Municipal District Council.

Planning permission had initially been approved for a 54-bed nursing home and Meath County Council deemed that a change of use from a nursing home to a residential drug rehab facility was not a material change of use and was an exempted development, which did not require planning permission.

But an Bord Pleanála took a different view, stating “the change of of use of the permitted nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility is a development and not an exempted development.

“The proposed use as a residential drug rehabilitation facility would be a factual change of use from use as a nursing home and such change of use would raise material planning considerations including different patterns of traffic, and pedestrian activity/movement, a different service to a different user group, including a population with a broader age profile and who are drug dependant and with limited interaction with the local community, and is, therefore a material change of use, and is development.”

The news was welcomed by local Fine Gael councillor Noel French.

“I’m amazed, I can hardly believe it,” he said. “Common sense has prevailed at last. It’s a good day for Ballivor. It’s a good day for Ireland.

“This means that Narconon now has to go through the full planning process, which is open to objections. It was ridiculous to think that a nursing home in a small village was the exact same in terms of planning as a nursing home.

“This case has also highlighted the use of Section 5 which circumvents a planning process. All section five decisions made by Meath Co. Council are now notified to all county councillors. This is a significant opening of the planning process and Meath is leading the way.”

In a statement Narconon Ireland said: “Meath County Council granted Narconon planning permission in 2016. The building is nearly completed. We adhered to planning laws from start to finish. We are surprised by this decision from An Bord Pleanála more than two years later and we are seeking legal advice.”

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/religion-and-beliefs/scientology-drug-rehab-centre-suffers-planning-setback-1.3707346

Barney Over Scientologists’ Dinosaur Day – The Sunday Times

A Church of Scientology “family fun” weekend has been criticised by South Dublin county councillors and a scientology expert, who suspect that the event could be used to target new Irish recruits.

The “dinosaur giant family fun weekend”, which takes place on September 22 and 23 at the Church of Scientology’s community centre in Firhouse, Dublin, will include mechanical dinosaurs, a petting zoo, rides and a theatrical performance that will “thrill and entertain kids, while stimulating their imagination”.

More than 2,300 people have indicated on a Facebook page that they will attend the event, and more than 4,000 have marked an interest.

Martina Genockey, a Labour Party councillor for Tallaght South, said that residents had been concerned about the presence of scientology in the area for some time.

“There is a lot of concern in the community, with protests outside the centre and that kind of thing. I think people see this differently from other religions; it is more cult-like,” she said.

“These events they are having are very much aimed at children and families, and a lot of people see it as a way of bringing in people who have nothing to do with the centre. You have to think to yourself, why are they doing this? They are trying to recruit people.”

Brian Lawlor, a Fine Gael councillor for Templeogue-Terenure, said that local people would not be supporting the event.

“[Scientologists] are active in the community, but I won’t be going in there myself,” he said. “I think they are wrong for the area.”

One mother, who asked not to be identified, indicated on Facebook that she would attend the event. She told The Sunday Times that she did not know that the Church of Scientology had organised it and admitted that she was now reconsidering whether to go.

Another mother, Sive Bardon, said she did not care whether the Church of Scientology was running the event and would be taking her son because he was obsessed with dinosaurs.

“I don’t really care much about what religion or race will be hosting it,” she said.

The Church of Scientology opened its community centre in Dublin last year and has held more than 100 events since.

Tony Ortega, an American journalist who specialises in scientology, said that such events are about making the organisation more acceptable to the community while attempting to identify any local interest.

“The idea is you bring people in for a barbecue or a kid’s party,” he said. “You get the family in, and then the parents are asked to look at some literature.

“It isn’t very effective. They are very poor now at getting new recruits as the word is out and people are very suspicious of them.”

Diana Stahl, the director of public affairs at the Firhouse branch of the Church of Scientology, said that events organised in Dublin were about helping the community.

“Scientologists believe that to do well in life one is not meant to mind his own business, as some theories suggest. On the contrary, one is meant to embrace and actually help his community, his country and mankind, in general, to the maximum of his abilities.

“Our family fun days are very popular and are attended by hundreds of people. Parents who have been here love coming back as they enjoy the place and the facility and usually bring more friends as well.”

Scientology, founded in 1952, is based on the teachings of the American sci-fi author L Ron Hubbard. In Ireland, the Church of Scientology is a registered company that has so far failed to obtain charitable or religious status.

Scientology has had a presence in Ireland since 1987. The organisation bought a former Christian church in Firhouse last year for about €6m, converting it into its centre for Irish operations.

According to statistics published in the 2016 census, only 87 people identified as scientologists in Ireland.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/barney-over-scientologists-dinosaur-day-976gxw5kd

Locals upset as building work starts on Scientology-backed drug rehab centre – TheJournal.ie

Florence Hamilton has lived in her home in Ballivor, Meath for over 30 years. She has reared her children there, her playschool business is based in her back garden. Children come and go as we chat. Fifty metres away, diggers shift huge mounds of earth and a man dressed all in black keeps a watchful eye.

There is hoarding and ‘Keep Out’ signs. Building work has started and the pounding of steel on stone is deafening. ‘Any queries should be sent to info@narconon.ie’ is written on a sign posted on the hoarding.

Narconon bills itself as a drug rehabilitation therapy linked to the Church of Scientology. It was confirmed at the start of this year that the centre was to open in Ballivor. The multi-million euro development will cater for 34 “students” and 18 staff.

According to its official website, Narconon “uses unique rehabilitation technology that gets to the problem at its source and provides a path for long-term success”.

But their methods have proven controversial.

Their drug detoxification programme uses high doses of vitamins along with long periods in dry saunas which it says is an attempt to flush toxins out of your body. The HSE has previously said that “Scientology’s drug treatment programme has no standing amongst medical professionals involved in the treatment of persons with alcohol and drug use disorders”.

A spokesperson at the National Drug Treatment Centre said:

“It comprises a series of interventions (‘Narconon’) with limited or no basis in a scientific understanding of human physiology and brain functioning and may potentially be harmful directly (with overuse of vitamins and other products) and indirectly in that persons are engaging in an intervention with no evidence of potential benefit for them.”

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Florence described the fear and anxiety she and many in the small community of Ballivor are experiencing. Her fear masks an anger. Hamilton, along with a large number of locals opposed to the Narconon centre, feel abandoned by the Government.

“I found out about it before Christmas and I didn’t believe it. I thought our Government would not allow it to happen because there is no supervision of what they do. It’s not going to sit easy with me, them being there. I run a preschool and my preschool is situated here. Having a rehab centre for drug addicts there – it doesn’t marry at all.

“Seemingly the powers that be don’t have the will to change it. They don’t care because it’s not on their doorstep. We had politicians down here. They were going to do this, that and the other, they got the photo opportunity and ran for the hills and left us to it.”

The noise of the drilling is now impacting on Hamilton and the children she and her colleagues look after, she says, and is something which she finds distressing.

“They’ve started here a week ago. The noise of the pounding and pulling up the foundations – my little ones who make a lot of noise themselves couldn’t take it – they had to come in from the play yard.”

TheJournal.ie travelled to Ballivor on Wednesday of this week and attempted to gauge the opinion of locals. We were soon to discover first hand how security deals with curious visitors.

Our video journalist started filming the outside of the building, outside the hoarding on public property, when he and this reporter were met by a man dressed head-to-toe in black with a cap pulled down over his face. He had earlier started filming protesters who were standing outside. The man walked out holding a camera in his hand.

Both journalists identified themselves as working for TheJournal.ie and asked why the man was filming protesters. He did not respond but instead walked back behind the 12-foot hoarding. The man’s camera then appeared over the top of the hoarding and started filming again. The protesters had long gone at this stage. TheJournal.ie once again asked the man why he was filming and what he thought about locals’ concerns. There was no response.

Attempts to find someone locally who is in favour of the centre to talk on the record proved unsuccessful. Business owners were concerned that any apparent support for Narconon could mean a reduction in their business. They also feared being ostracised in their community.

One business owner, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said he had no problem with the centre coming in. He added that he had read up on it and urged locals in the area to do the same.

“I had people coming in saying, ‘isn’t it terrible’ and all this and I thought I’d read up on it. I think people are thinking that there’ll be drug addicts just wandering around the place and that’s not what it is going to be, I think.

“But I can’t put my face and my name out there because Ballivor is a very small place. Everyone knows everyone. I’d actually be risking my livelihood if I did that.”

Many people we approached told us that they did not know enough to comment on what was happening. Others said they didn’t want the Church of Scientology knowing their names or face.

Protests

Claire O’Mara is a member of the ‘Ballivor Says No’ group – a community programme attempting to resist Narconon coming into the village.

Her message is similar to Hamilton’s – Narconon and its Scientology links are not welcome in Ballivor.

“I’m very nervous. I didn’t know much about Scientology or Narconon but I spent days and weeks reading up on it and I’m worried. We have no idea why they chose such a small village. It’s a very small place. I have not spoken to anyone who wants it here. They’re going back home and parishioners if you can call them that, that they’re welcome. They’re not welcome. We are going to everything in our power to stop them.”

Local politicians have also been vocal on the matter. Sinn Féin TD Peader Tóibín said there was “a massive gap” in the government’s responsibilities, saying “there is absolutely no legislation and no regulation governing how these residential drug rehabilitation centres operate”.

Toibín said that, in addition to closer scrutiny of the centres themselves, the qualifications of the staff employed to administer the courses also needed to be regulated.

Fine Gael Councillor Noel French has been part of the movement against the centre. He spoke of his disappointment that the initial plans for a nursing home did not come to fruition and that this drug treatment centre was instead coming to a village of 1,700 people.

“My main reaction was it was an awful pity that the original planning for a nursing home was not being proceeded with. There are about 23 older people from the parish here who are in nursing homes outside the parish. It would have been a great boost for the community

“We are concerned about the size of the centre. There will be 34 addicts being here for rehab. I don’t have a problem with rehab but I am concerned about the size of it within the community.

“There are no standards here in Ireland with a drug rehab centre. We have raised this with all three TDs from Meath West and each have said they too would be concerned.”

TheJournal.ie contacted the Department of Health and asked it to clarify its position of the Narconon centre and the complete lack of regulations in the drug rehabilitation industry.

A spokeswoman for the department said: “The Department of Health would advise anyone seeking treatment for addiction to contact their local HSE Addiction Service.

“The Department has no jurisdiction over agencies that provide private addiction treatment services. There is currently no provision in legislation for the regulation or inspection of residential treatment or rehabilitation centres specialising in addiction.

“Organisations which provide addiction services and are funded by the HSE are required to meet minimum standards in the delivery of services across a range of criteria which form the basis of any service level agreement.

“The HSE has informed the Department of Health that there is no evidence to suggest that the drug treatment programme, provided by the organisation referred to would meet with any of the criteria set out by the HSE for agencies that provide addiction services on its behalf.

The HSE considers that the organisation’s drug treatment programme comprises a series of interventions with limited or no basis in a scientific understanding of human physiology and brain functioning.”

TheJournal.ie contacted Narconon and asked if it felt it should be regulated by the State and asked its opinion on the protesters’ concerns. The HSE’s stance on the treatment was also questioned by Narconon.

A spokesman for the group said: “Narconon representatives have been meeting with local Ballivor residents over the past number of weeks and each meeting has been courteous and residents who have engaged are interested in the centre. Narconon has sent an information booklet to each house in Ballivor on which are email and telephone contact details if anyone in Ballivor has any questions or concerns

“Narconon follows the laws and regulations of the country in which they operate. Narconon prides itself is setting and maintaining the highest of standards in all aspects of the programme.

“This HSE statement is taken out of context and does not include that the person making the statement also said under cross examination that he did not know anything about the Narconon programme and had never met anyone who had done the programme.”

http://www.thejournal.ie/narconon-scientology-3979543-Apr2018/

“Disturbing: Cult’s Treatment Plan Puts Pressures on Addicts” – Sunday World

A controversial drug rehab firm linked to Scientology uses high-pressure sales tactics to get addicts to sign up to its £18,000 detox programme

Cult-linked Narconon, who plan to build a €5.6 million rehab centre in a small village in Co Meath, flew two staff members to Dublin within days of being contacted by our undercover reporter, who was posing as a drug-user looking for help.

In a special investigation, the Sunday World found how staff placed huge pressure on the self-confessed ‘addict’ to sign up to their controversial detoxification course.

They even advised our undercover reporter to get into debt using her credit card to pay for the expensive programme.

She was urged to immediately walk away from her job and partner during a meeting at a Dublin cafe.

She received a total of 54 texts and 11 phone calls in just 24 hours as they plied on the pressure for her to leave immediately for a UK facility.

The encounter came after our reporter contacted the organisation asking for help with a fictitious drug problem.

They were so keen to have her admitted they jetted over from England to escort her from Dublin.

She made contact with the facility after filling out an online form on its website.

Almost immediately she received an email from a staff member called Evan Perkins.

Within minutes of replying she received a text via WhatsApp where she was asked her age and her occupation.

Posing as a young marketing professional told him she was struggling with a daily cocaine and painkiller addiction.

Within ten minutes Mr Perkins, a former HR manager with Narconon’s Californian centre, called her.

After questioning her further about her professional and personal life, she was told she was “suitable” for the programme.

He explained how the detoxification process would begin “straight away”.

Due to Narconon not being fully set up in Ireland yet, she was told she would have to travel to the organisation’s UK clinic.

Set on four acres of countryside, the West Sussex mansion is called the ‘New life Detox Centre’.

There she would receive high doses of vitamins to help cleanse the drugs from her system, spend up to five hours a day in a sauna to “sweat” the cocaine from her body and receive mindfulness type therapy.

She would also complete a course on helping her remove “anti-social personalities” from her life.

When the three month detox plan was completed, she would receive career and life guidance a member of Narconon staff, for up to 18 months, she was told.

After expressing concern about telling family, friends and work colleagues about her addiction, she was advised that she could do so, via email if she wished, when she was admitted to the facility.

He also told her that a qualified doctor, connected to the organisation, would construct a sick note stating “whatever she wanted”. She could then post this to her employer.

“We could go down the line of mental health, or stress, if that was OK with you,” Mr Perkins said.

It was only when she asked about the cost of the treatment that she was told it came with an eye-watering £18,000 price tag.

“In any other treatment facility it would be £10,000 to £20,000 a month, but this is £18,000 for the 12 weeks,” he said. “As well as doing all the steps you get assigned someone from Narconon to help with your life and career for up to 18 months after you leave.”

She informed Mr Perkins she could not afford to pay for the treatment up front.

He then told her: “We will work out with you the best way that will work, you can put a down payment of some size and we can work out a way for you to get a loan or (credit) cards or whatever is comfortable for you, and the organisation, to pay it in a way that works.”

Mr Perkins added: “Our first priority is that we want to help you, the end game.

‘And I’ll just tell you frankly what my end game would be. To fly in (to Dublin) on Wednesday and fly (back) with you on Thursday.

“I can have the team on our end start preparing you a letter, if that will help. You should start putting the pieces in place to pretty much come right away.”

Our reporter met Mr Perkins on Wednesday afternoon at a Dublin city centre cafe.
He jetted in alongside another member of Narconon staff, to meet her.
His companion, an American woman, called herself Reggie.

It was during this bizarre meeting that both well dressed colleagues placed a considerable amount of pressure on her to leave the country and receive treatment.

She was also advised against telling her partner that she planned to leave Ireland.

“Once you are there you are going to get some stability, you are going to have some reality and then we can sit with you and go through it, and you can either do it by email or call,” Reggie said.

She then told her: “Don’t you think it would be better if you just called in to work now and said, I’m not feeling very well, I need to go home.

“It would actually be better. There’s so much stress right now, it would be better if you just stayed with us and worked out the finer details and then go back with us back on the plane. That would be the easiest thing.”

When she said she wanted time to think about joining the programme, and asked for some time alone, Reggie told her: “The problem is when you are by yourself then comes in lots of problems and the person then makes wrong decisions at that point.”

During the strange one hour meeting our reporter was also handed two packets of vitamin based capsules, which ingredients included magnesium and niacin – an organic compound heavily used in Scientology’s ‘purification’ programme.She was told to take them to help with the “stress and anxiety” of leaving Ireland to receive treatment.

When questioned whether it would be possible to take anti-depressants to help with her mood during her time at the clinic, she was told that she could not do so.

“Your depression will more or less disappear on the first day….the vitamins lift your mood massively,” Reggie said.

Before leaving the meeting she was again advised on obtaining credit, whilst in Narconon’s care, to pay for the treatment.

Later that afternoon she was bombarded with texts and calls from Mr Perkins.

In one text he said: “Please answer my call. It is not good for u to be in your head”.

She then informed Mr Perkins she had changed her mind about signing up to the programme.

He responded by sending further texts and attempting to contact her by phone.

In total she received 54 texts and 11 missed phone calls in 24 hours after the meeting.

Independent Dublin city councillor Christy Burke, who has helped hundreds of constituents obtain addiction treatment in the drug ravaged north inner city, said he was appalled at Narconon’s methods and claims at treating drug addicts.

He said: “This is not the way those suffering from drug addiction should be receiving treatment.

“Having helped many constituents obtain addiction services, it is clear what this organisation is saying goes against all medical advice, and almost going into dangerous territory.

“It just comes across as a shady cult.”

Speaking to the Sunday World ex-Scientologist John McGhee – who spent three years in the grip of the cult – said he was not surprised by the tactics used by Narconon to recruit vulnerable people to the treatment programme.

The Offaly-based embalmer, who has been campaigning against the Ballivor proposed centre, said he believes the centre will be a “recruitment tool” for Scientology.

“They keep trying to distance themselves from Narconon but there is no distance, it is Scientology by another name,” he said.

“When I was involved I was regularly asked to give donations to Narconon.

“The programme that they put the addicts on, they put me on when I joined, and I’ve never done drugs.

“It’s like a purification rundown and it’s supposed to rid your body of residual toxins to get you on what they call the bridge to total freedom, which costs about €400,000 to complete

“But the first step is exactly the same as what they are trying to get addicts on, where they take the high doses of vitamins and go into the sauna.

“This programme offers no cure for anything. It’s all about money, nothing else. It offers no cure for anything.

“If it’s offered to a drug addict whose liver or immune system is compromised they could end up with permanent organ damage. It can even result in death, as has happened in the past.”

In 2012 three patients at Narconon’s chief facility in Oklahoma died within a nine month period.

The deaths resulted in a police investigation and authorities later revoked the centre’s permit for medical detoxification. Staff were also refused counselling certificates.

The addiction treatment – backed by movie stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta – involves ingesting a high-dose cocktail of vitamins before cooking in a sauna for up to five hours and has been outlawed in the US state of Oklahoma.
In Ireland it has been dismissed by HSE experts and the Department of Heath, who said the treatment has “limited or no basis” in the science of human physiology and brain functioning.

However due to a lack of legislation the private facility is free to set up and run in Ireland without being monitored.

It was confirmed last month that Narconon would open a 34 bed facility in the remote Meath village of Ballivor on a proposed nursing home site.

The news came less than two months after 200 people took to the streets against the plans to turn the former national school site into a residential drug treatment centre.

Bosses of the US-born project have since claimed the centre bring will bring in €850,000 per year to the local community, on top of six full-time jobs.

However locals, business owners and politicians have fiercely vented their opposition to the new clinic, and voiced fears it could be a “recruiting ground” for Scientologists.

Exposing Scientology's fraud and abuse in Dublin