Council squabbles with Scientologists over playground – The Times

Local councillors have opposed controversial plans by the Church of Scientology to build a playground at its new centre in southwest Dublin.

The Firhouse village community council said that the church had only applied for planning permission to use the space as a place of worship.

The 1,200-seat venue opened in October in the former Victory Centre on the Firhouse Road in Tallaght. The church bought the site for €6 million.

Critics say that the religion is targeting families with children with the planned playground, as well as by hosting child-friendly events over the Christmas period, including a funfair. In its objection the community council said that the building was “never intended to be an event centre for conference and music events”.

Tom Fennelly, the community council’s chairman, said: “Any children’s playground should be for all children. The proposed playground will not be because parents who do not subscribe to Scientology will not allow their children to go there.”

The community council also objected to a sign saying “community centre” at the entrance to the church, which it said was unauthorised.

Mr Fennelly said that the Scientologists had argued that the proposed playground, which would be surrounded by hedges 1.3 metres high, was required because of the lack of play facilities for children in the area.

South Dublin county council said there was an agreement in principle for the local authority to provide a large play space in the Dodder Valley Park. The location and detail would be subject to further studies, it said, adding that the section of the Dodder Valley adjacent to the Scientology centre would probably be unsuitable for ecological reasons. Councillors on the local authority’s Rathfarnham/Templeogue-Terenure area committee also voiced their objection to the planned playground earlier this month.

The local branch of the Social Democrats said the location of the planned playground, close to a primary and post-primary school, was a child-protection issue, as was the Scientologists’ request for two 4.5m-high CCTV poles near the playground. “It is unclear why this group are looking to provide activities and services geared towards people with young families,” Carly Bailey, the party’s local area representative, said.

The Church of Scientology claimed the playground would “serve as a focal point for the community as it provides children with activities to partake in the area. It will serve a wide variety of housing estates given its central location.” It added: “The development will provide for better interaction of the existing facility with the adjacent community.”

South Dublin county council will decide on the application by March 12.

• Locals in Ballivor, Co Meath, have questioned Meath county council about plans for a drug rehabilitation centre linked to Scientology. More than 600 residents signed a petition against an application by Narconon, the religion’s addiction programme, to take over a former school building and Ballivor community council has now submitted a Section 5 application to the local authority to determine if the plans require a change of permitted use. Narconon offered the Ballivor councillors a tour, which they rejected as inappropriate while they were waiting for a ruling.

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