A public meeting took place in Ballivor at the weekend following reports that the Church of Scientology has purchased the former national school site in the village for use as the location for a controversial drug rehabilitation centre.
The site already has planning permission for a nursing home development. It was sold by the parish some years back following the opening of the new school across the road from the site, and has since been sold again.
Concerns have been raised in the village that the development, beside the local community centre and gardens, is to house the organisation’s Narconon programme, an expensive substance-abuse rehabilitation programme.
American science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard founded scientology in 1953, and the Church of Scientology has often been compared to a cult. Its Hollywood supporters have included actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
In October this year, the organisation, which has no charitable or religious status in Ireland, and is a registered company, opened a massive 1,100 seater conference centre in Firhouse, Dublin, and last year, opened a ‘national affairs office’ at Merrion Square in Dublin.
In June 2016, the former primary school in Ballivor came on the market with CBRE, with a half-built nursing home development on the site.
The school building was refurbished and extended to accommodate a modern 15-bedroom nursing home, while on an adjoining 2.26-acre site, some foundations have been laid for a 41-bedroom extension.
CBRE was asking €1 million for the ‘Raspberry Wood Nursing Home’ site. The agents are understood to have sold it to another agent, acting for a client.
Around 170 local residents attended the meeting in Ballivor Community Centre on Sunday night, where it was decided a petition would be gathered objecting to any move by the scientologists to the site.
Cllr Noel French says that he would be objecting to the proposals if a change-of-use planning application is necessary.
“I could be objecting to that on a number of grounds,” he states. I would not be happy that what many have described as a cult being present in our community and I will do what I can to prevent it coming into our community,” he says.
“I believe in everyone having their own religious freedom but cults are something else. I understand that what the scientologists want to use the building for is a substance rehabilitation centre. Again no problem with those who fall on hard times and I am actually on the board of such a centre, but Ballivor is not the place for such a centre. It is too isolated and too small for any hope of recovering addicts to re-integrate into society.
He added: “I also do have a problem when unproven methods are used. Narconon International is an organization that promotes the theories of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction. I had hope that the building would provide a retirement home and create a few jobs in the village as well as they are badly needed.”
While a number of European countries have recognised scientology as a religion, scientologists in Paris have been convicted of fraud, while Belgium recently tried to outlaw the organisation as a criminal one after a 20-year investigation, but failed.
Meath County Council has not had any planning application or pre-planning consultations regarding the site.
The Church of Scientology’s media relations department in Dublin has been contacted by the Meath Chronicle but has not commented on the reported Ballivor purchase.