Taoiseach: Only qualified people should supply addiction services – Irish Times

Only appropriately qualified and licensed people should provide addiction services, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He was responding to concerns about efforts by the Church of Scientology to establish a drugs rehabilitation programme in the village of Ballivor, Co Meath.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells referred to the religious organisation’s attempts to set up a Narconon programme in an old national school in Ballivor and he asked “if the cult’s wacky drug rehabilitation programme is legally permitted to operate in the State”.

The Meath West TD asked Mr Varadkar to send a message of support, as Taoiseach and a doctor, to concerned parents in the village who plan a protest outside the school at 2pm on Wednesday. “They are petrified about the safety of their children,” he said.

The Taoiseach replied: “I am absolutely of the view that the only people who should provide addiction services are those who are appropriately qualified and licensed to do so.”

He added that on occasion addiction services are provided by religious groups. “I know that a number of Catholic groups provide alcohol counselling services and do so very well.”

Fianna Fáil Meath East TD Thomas Byrne said “it is not a religion but a scam”.

The Taoiseach said he had read a little about the issue in the papers but did not know all the details or facts.

Mr Cassells asked if the programme planned by the Church of Scientology is legally permitted.

The Taoiseach replied that no matter what background people came from “it is essential that such services only be provided by those who are qualified and legally permitted to provide them”.


Shane Cassells questions Taoiseach over phony Scientology rehab centre planned for Ballivor

Shane Cassells, TD for Meath West: “Taoiseach, the program for government committed you to a new national drug strategy, which you launched last summer, and you said at the launch that the treatment of abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, and I quote, “helps communities”. Taoiseach, can I ask you whether the small rural community of Ballivor in County Meath will be helped by the attempt from the Church of Scientology trying to establish a Narconon drug program in their tiny village in an old national school, and furthermore, whether this cult’s wacky drug rehab program is legally permitted to operate in this state, and whether you, Taoiseach, would like to send a message, both as Taoiseach and as a doctor, of support to the concerned parents who would protest outside to school tomorrow at 2:00 p.m., petrified for the safety of their children in the town of Ballivor?”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “I read a little about this in the papers, but I don’t have, I don’t know all the details or all the facts but I would certainly be absolutely of the view that the only people who provide services with respect to addiction should be people who are appropriately qualified and appropriately licensed to do so. On occasion, those services can be provided by religious groups, I know a number of Catholic religious groups that provide alcohol counseling services and and do so and do so very well, but no matter what background they’re coming from, I think it’s absolutely essential that these should only be provided by people who are qualified and legally permission to do so.”
Thomas Byrne, TD for Meath East: “It is not a religion but a scam.”
Shane Cassells: “Is the programme legally permitted?”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “No matter from what background they come, it is essential that such services only be provided by those who are qualified and legally permitted to provide them.”
Cassells raises concern over phony Scientology rehab centre planned for Ballivor

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells has asked the Taoiseach to provide reassurance that an organisation closely linked with the secretive cult-like Church of Scientology will not be facilitated in setting up operations in a rural village in Meath.

Deputy Cassells made comments after raising the issue directly with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dáil Éireann earlier today.

Deputy Cassells said, “Narconon, which is indistinguishable from the Church of Scientology, is attempting to setup operations in Ballivor under the guise of a drugs rehabilitation project. The so called rehabilitation programmes run by the Church of Scientology and its affiliated organisations have been widely discredited. They are used as a front to indoctrinate vulnerable people, usually young men, into following the whacky teachings of the self-labelled ‘Church’.

“The people of Ballivor don’t want anything to do with Narconon or the shady organisation that backs them. I raised this issue in the Dáil with the Taoiseach earlier today and sought reassurance that the Government will support the local community. I was encouraged by the Taoiseach’s reply that those offering drugs rehabilitation services must be medically trained and have relevant clinical experience. This is a view that I support.

“The Church of Scientology have been attempting to intensify their operations in Ireland. This is a shady cult which has been involved in numerous scandals, including one of the largest infiltrations of the United States Government with the aim of purging unfavourable records relating to the organisation. Many former members of the organisation have spoken out about it’s cult-like activities and how they were viciously targeted by operatives linked to the Church following their departure.

“We do not want the Church of Scientology, or any front organisation linked to it, operating in our community. I’m calling on people to come out and support the protest due to be held in Ballivor tomorrow afternoon,” concluded Deputy Cassells.


Council confirms it received planning inquiries for Scientology rehab centre in Meath – Irish Independent

Meath County Council has confirmed it received planning inquiries about the opening of a controversial facility connected to the Church of Scientology.

The local authority today, in an email to Fine Gael councillor Noel French, said Narconon, the Church of Scientology linked drug rehab organisation, made inquiries about the planning requirements for a drug rehab centre at the former national school in Ballivor.

The council previously stated it had received no such inquiries.

Narconon, officially an international not-for-profit drug rehab organisation, is widely accepted as being funded and operated by Scientologists.

Cllr French said: “I am bucking mad!! No chance to challenge change of use at County Council level.

“I will be asking Meath County Council to ensure that this does not happen again. All planning material relating to a site should be put online not just some of it. I am really annoyed by this revelation.”

Ballivor residents are due to hold a protest at 1.30pm on Wednesday against the opening of the development.

Peadar Toibin, the local Sinn Fein TD, is still waiting to hear from the Department of Health as to whether Narconon would need a licence here.

In the email, a spokesperson for Meath County Council said: “We had previously confirmed that there had been no recent requests for pre-planning meetings and no recent contacts relating to the development and that remains the position.

“We have now carried further searches to establish if there had been any applications or contacts in previous years by The Church of Scientology or Narconon.

“The Council can now confirm that in August 2016 we were requested by the Narconon Trust c/o McGill Planning, 7 Fitzwilliam Street Upper, Dublin 2, to make a declaration in accordance with Part V of the Planning & Development Acts as to whether or not a change of use from a nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility was an exempted development.

“The Council issued a declaration on 2nd October 2016 that the change of use as outlined in their submission was exempted development (and therefore would not require planning permission).”

Narconon and the Church of Scientology have not responded to media queries on the matter.


Fears raised by silence surrounding Scientology rehab centre in Ballivor – Sunday Independent

Locals are suspicious of plans by ‘cult’ church for a drug rehab centre in a remote village in Meath, writes Maeve Sheehan

The usually secretive Church of Scientology claims to have opened its doors to Irish communities as it makes its presence felt in Ireland. It hosted a free Winter Wonderlands for kids at its €6m “Community Centre” at Firhouse and directs its “campaigns” to “share its ideals with the Irish people” from its “national affairs office” in a €2m Georgian building on Merrion Square, where visitors are welcome.

The silence around the Scientologists’ latest suspected project – a drugs rehab centre in a rural Meath village – is deafening. Although Ballivor is only 42 kilometres from Dublin, it is in a remote part of the county. Fewer than 2,000 people live there. The only public transport is a bus which comes once in the morning and once in evening. The new national school is on the main street. There are plans for a playground beside it. The community centre is across the street, next to what was supposed to be a nursing home in the original parish school building. Locals believe it is soon to be the new home for Narconon, officially an international not-for-profit drug rehab organisation, but widely accepted as being funded and operated by Scientologists.

The programme is based on a regime of vitamins, intensive sauna and exercise and has been dismissed by HSE experts as being without medical basis.

Ballivor’s isolation is probably part of the attraction, according to Noel French, a local Fine Gael councillor and one of the few politicians to voice concerns about the facility that is linked to a religion that Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin describes as a “cult”.

“We are lucky in Ireland that we have freedom of belief and everyone is free to believe what they want. Ballivor is a small community but it does have its vulnerable groups like every other small community and I would be concerned at the introduction of a group like Narconon into the community,” he said.

The partially finished nursing home with 56 beds was put on the market through CBRE for €1m in 2016 and was sold last year to a mysterious entity that has yet to declare itself.

Last month, the residents obtained land registry records that named a Ryan Alabaster, with an address care of the legal firm, Noel Smyth & Co, as the registered. owner of the property. The firm also helped incorporate its national affairs office and Firhouse Community Centre as companies here.

When the Sunday Independent rang the Church of Scientology’s national affairs office in Dublin requesting to speak to Ryan Alabaster, we were told: “I mean he comes through here from time to time. I will forward the message to him.” We then rang the Church of Scientology in California and asked for Ryan Alabaster. We were put through to the “estates office”.

The woman who picked up said: “I think you are through to the wrong place.” The receptionist said: “Oh, then he must have moved. That was his office.”

We rang Narconon in California using the name Mary, and asked the woman who answered the phone when the Narconon centre was opening in Ireland? She didn’t know and went off to inquire, then said: “The estimation would be in six months.”

The Church of Scientology’s national affairs office in Dublin, which directs its “campaigns” on “drug addiction, educational opportunities, crime and prison recidivism” has not responded to media queries.

This is not the first time the Scientologists have attempted to establish Narconon in Ireland. Narconon Ireland was first registered with the Companies Office here in 1997, while Criminon – a criminal rehabilitation programme that is regarded as a front group for Scientologists was registered as a business owned by Narconon Ireland. Neither appears to have got off the ground and both businesses were dissolved in 2002.

The Scientologists’ latest incursion into Ireland is more ambitious.

Last week, the Sunday Independent met Schkelzen “Leni” Bundo at a coffee shop in Tallaght. The Albanian man, who has been in Ireland for 10 years, worked at the Scientologists’ Firhouse Community Centre from September to November. He claims dozens of senior Scientologists came to work at the centre, staying in rented properties in Wicklow, Dublin 4, a large period property in Kildare and in Meath.

Bundo said he became involved in Scientologist “through a girlfriend”. He then joined the “staff” at the centre in Firhouse. He said he was told that first he’d first have to do a purification programme – a cleansing programme similar to Narconon’s – that involves clearing the body toxins with a multitude of Vitamin pills and saunas. The course cost him €1,800, he says. Bun do says he worked in the Firhouse Centre cafe, for cash, and claims he was paid less than €3 an hour.

Bundo left in November. He claims he is owed money and is getting legal advice. As regards the interview, he says: “I am not doing it just to get my money back. I just doing to tell all the staff who is there, if you protect your rights, you know. Some of them afraid to speak out.”

A statement said the centre’s staff were “religious volunteers” who made a “religious pledge” to “actively forward. the work of the Church”.

The Church of Scientology is sensitive to criticism. Last week, it threatened to sue Fiona O’Leary, an autism campaigner and vociferous anti-Scientologist on Facebook and Twitter. A letter from Noel Smyth Co solicitors accused her of among other things, recording conversations with staff and putting them online and spreading disinformation.

But in the absence of any comment from the Church of Scientology or Narconon, residents of Ballivor are turning to O’Leary and other anti-Scientology campaigners for help in finding out the fate of their former parish school.

They intend to object to any planning applications for the site – that is if planning permission is required. A Narconon Centre in the UK operates on the basis that it provides spiritual, not medical treatment and calls its and diet clients “students”. Peadar Toibin, the local Sinn Fein TD, is still waiting to hear from the Department of Health as to whether Narconon would need a licence here.

A number of former members of the Church of Scientology will address a protest meeting at 2.30pm on Wednesday in Ballivor, which was organised by local residents including Clare O’Mara and Sinead McGrath. “We do not have enough information but people are concerned,” said Sinead.


Dietitian lacks faith in scientologists’ purification pills – The Sunday Times

A health professional has warned that a course of vitamins given by scientologists to recruits at its new Firhouse centre, as part of a €1,800 “purification” programme, is potentially dangerous.

Orla Walsh, a dietitian, has reviewed the list of supplements given to Zeni Bundo, an Albanian who worked in the scientologists’ centre up to last November.

Bundo, 31, has claimed the organisation treated staff “like slaves”, paying them less than the minimum wage and expecting them to work up to 15 hours a day. Bundo worked as a driver and cafe assistant for the scientologists but left before completing the purification course. He said he was made to take repeated saunas in the Firhouse centre, to swallow masses of vitamins that made him feel ill, and was asked personal questions while monitored by a meter.

Walsh reviewed the dosages of 11 vitamins and supplements Bundo was told to take over the last five days of his course. “The amounts and dosages of vitamins prescribed in this case can be considered dangerous and not suitable,” she said.

Among the 11 vitamins and supplements Bundo was told to take daily was vitamin A with 50,000 individual units (IU), to be consumed on day one. Walsh said it was inadvisable to ingest any supplement with more than 10,000 IU of vitamin A. Depending on the amount taken and the duration, side effects of excess vitamin A can include “liver damage, I dizziness, nausea, headaches, skin issues and joint pain”. Bundo says he wants to i warn people not to join the I religion, and claims locals as young as 15 are being recruited in Firhouse.

Bundo used to drive scientologists arriving at Dublin airport to residences in Meath and Avon Ri in Wicklow, or bring them into Dublin for training. Bundo said his first month’s pay was just €255 cash. His weekly pay then ranged from €180 to €330. “I thought, what the hell is going on here?” he said. “They are slaving, not respecting the work I am doing.”

Bundo lived in Avon Ri, where the religious group has rented dozens of holiday houses for staff. One of his housemates was a Japanese woman who said she had spent $40,000 (€32,700) on attempting to go “clear”. The Albanian man said he often saw staff in tears and they were afraid to speak out.

Diana Stahl, the public affairs director for the Church of Scientology’s Irish wing, said all the centre’s staff were “religious volunteers”.

“Each volunteer makes a religious pledge to ‘actively forward the work of the church out of a deep personal commitment to scientology’,” she said. Stahl added that the church complied with Irish laws and was a non-profit organiSation. She described the purification programme as a religious serVice taken by members “on their own spiritual path” and said it was not a medical treatment. The church generally asked for a donation of €1,500 in return.”