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.