The Church of Scientology has been accused of “targeting” families with children as it has applied for planning permission to build a playground at its centre in south Dublin.
A notice was erected outside the group’s church and community centre in Firhouse over the weekend and outlines plans for a 17 sq m internal playground.
Carly Bailey, a Social Democrats councillor for the area, said that she was concerned by the development because the centre has already held a number of events aimed at children.
“They are absolutely without question targeting young people and families with young children. They had a six-week Christmas show with a full on carnival, real reindeer and free hot chocolate. There’s also been an Alice in Wonderland event and a Frozen event. They do anything you can think of for families with children,” Ms Bailey said. “We hear from people who are concerned but also from people who think that it’s here and it’s free so it’s fine. The point is we don’t know what it is they’re interested in. It’s clearly a long-term project given the amount of money invested in it.”
A spokesman for the Church of Scientology in Ireland denied it was targeting anyone and said that the decision to build the playground was taken after consulting with local councillors about what was needed in the area. He said that a rugby and GAA pitch would also open on the site in March.
Martina Genockey, a Labour councillor for the area, said that she had not met with the group as she had concerns about their presence in the area.
“I think Scientology is extremely cult-like, and I would not like to see local people caught up in it unwittingly by using facilities they have provided,” Ms Genockey said.
“The council has a significant play-space programme, and any playgrounds that were needed were considered as part of that plan. I know there is a playground just down the road.”
Diana Stahl, the director of public affairs at the Firhouse branch of the Church of Scientology, said that over 4,500 people have visited the centre since it opened. It is understood that only 100 people attend services in the church every Sunday.
“We have held a number of very successful events for the community and will continue to do so, as we believe that helping people and bringing joy into the community is a natural part of life. We welcome anyone to come in and visit, to have a tea or coffee, use the facilities or if they wish they can find out what Scientology is,” Ms Stahl said. “Children or anyone under 18 who wishes to do any course, or undergo any testing, are strictly forbidden to do so unless they have written permission from both of their parents or guardians. The church also supports effective social betterment programmes for the benefit of all.”
The Sunday Times reported last September that the Church of Scientology hired stands at a state-run education conference and asked school administrators for permission to make presentations to students. It has also hired stands at the TY transition-year exhibition attended by 7,000 secondary school students in Leopardstown.
The organisation bought the former Christian church in Firhouse for about €6 million. It was converted and opened as a centre for Scientology’s Irish operations last year. It has also purchased a school building in Co Meath which will be used for its controversial drugs treatment programme.