Protesters against the Church of Scientology will demonstrate outside its new base in south Dublin on Saturday.
The church has purchased the former Victory Outreach Centre in Firhouse Road for a reported €6 million as a place for its members to study and hold meetings. Such venues are known in scientology as “ Ideal Orgs ”.
The protesters, many of whom are ex-members of the church, will gather for what they anticipate will be the opening of the centre by Scientology leader David Miscavige.
The Victory Outreach Centre was formerly used as a Christian church. It accommodates 1,200 people, but the Church of Scientology has just 87 members in Ireland according to the 2016 census.
Nevertheless, the organisation also set up the National Affairs Office of Ireland in Merrion Square last year. Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard lived in Merrion Square for a time in the 1950s.
On its website the organisation says its purpose in Ireland is to “hope for a better world and for happier lives, and to share the practical solutions that turn those hopes into reality”.
Dialogue Ireland Trust director Mike Garde, who has spent decades investigating cultism, said the aim of Scientology is the “infiltration of Irish society” despite having very few members in Ireland.
He said the cost of the building will be used as a tax write-off in the United States.
“Why would they want to have a massive Georgian building in sight of the Dáil? It’s called a trophy construct,” he said.
Mr Garde said the warm reception given in 2013 to the actor Tom Cruise, the most famous scientologist follower and an influential member of the church, convinced the leadership that Ireland will be a soft touch.
Ex-scientologist Pete Griffiths suggested that setting up such a huge operation in Ireland made no sense given the minimal number of followers it has in Ireland. “The words white elephant come to mind,” he said. “I think it is just to convince the membership Scientology is expanding when in fact it is shrinking.”
He suggested that, although membership is shrinking, the church itself remains very wealthy and can afford premises like the one it has purchased in Firhouse.
Mr Griffiths said he was “99 per cent” certain Mr Miscavige will be at the opening on Saturday. “He has never missed the opening of an Ideal Org worldwide,” he said.
Scientology was founded by L Ron Hubbard in 1952. It has been dogged by controversy from the beginning and described as a brainwashing cult.
It operates a policy of disconnection where members are encouraged to distance themselves from their families if family members do not agree with their beliefs.
Local Fine Gael councillor Brian Lawlor said the church had originally wanted to open the building to the public on Saturday but chose not to when protesters started to show up outside.
Mr Lawlor said he discovered an invoice addressed to the “Church of Scientology Ireland Community Centre”in July which was the first indication that the building was being purchased by the organisation.
“From the emails I have got about them, I am very sceptical about their intentions,” he said.
Phonecalls and emails to the Church of Scientology in Ireland were not answered.