Residents of Ballivor have sent a clear message to Meath County Council, the HSE and Government that they will not tolerate the Church of Scientology and Narconon locating a drugs rehabilitation centre in their village.
Over 140 people turned out for the protest which was spearheaded by Cllr Noel French and Claire O'Meara of the Ballivor Says No campaign.
The scene of the protest was the former national school which was sold by the parish some years back.
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.
In August of 2016 it's understood the Narconon Trust applied to Meath County Council seeking a declaration that the site would be exempt from a change in planning. This was confirmed by the Council.
Cllr Noel French said he was heartened by the turnout for the protest. "The people of Ballivor don't want this here. We have petitions out in shops, we need our TDs, our councillors, our senators, our ministers and our Toiseach to support this campaign."
Deputy Shane Cassells said the village of Ballivor needed support and investment and not a facility from "such a shady organisation".
"I've raised this issue on the floor of the Dail with the Taoiseach asking him if this is the type of facility he wants to see operating and the Taoiseach came back and said he certainly didn't want to see any medical facility operate where there were no suitably qualified people and I'll be holding the Taoiseach to his word on that so that we don't have a Narconon drugs rehabilitation centre operating in Ballivor".
Claire O'Meara of Ballivor Says No group said that the village was completely unsuitable for locating such a facility and she said the campaign to see the project stopped would continue.
Members of anti-scientology groups had travelled to Ballivor from other parts of the country and the UK to take part in the protest.
It had emerged that the Narconon Trust received an exempted development declaration from Meath County Council regarding its plans to develop a drug rehab centre in Ballivor in October 2016.
A further search of correspondence in the planning department revealed that in August 2016 the council was asked to make a declaration under 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 the Narconon submission was exempted development, and therefore would not need new planning permission. Narconon is the drug rehabilitation course provided by the Church of Scientology.
The Council had 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 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.
Claire O'Meara leads the protestors against proposed Narconon drugs rehab centre
Cllr Noel French said this communication had come as a result of his putting a query to the planning section of Meath County Council.
He says: “It surprises me that Meath County Council did not provide this information when requested to do so in December.
“The ‘Ballivor Says No’ group had planned to challenge a change of use for the building but this revelation removes that opportunity.
“We now know that Narconon is planning a drug rehab centre in Ballivor but we should have known this when the planning decision was made. Instead we had to find these things out ourselves and spend time and energy we could devote to other work.”
The Full Statement from Meath County Council reads:
Meath County Council granted planning permission for a nursing home on the site of the old National School building (Ballivor) in December 2014 (planning reference TA140621) to Smith and Smith, Rathmore, Aughnacliffe, Co. Longford.
In September 2016, the Council was asked by Narconon Trust for an opinion as to whether or not a change of use from the permitted nursing home to a drug rehabilitation centre required further planning permission.
Having considered the relevant legislation and regulations, the Council was of the opinion that the change of use described was an exempted development and Narconon were so informed.
The Council can only give an opinion based on its interpretation of relevant legislation. An Bord Pleanála is the final arbiter of whether or not planning permission is needed.
As the Planning Authority the Council’s only consideration is whether or not the site is planning compliant. To date there is no evidence to suggest that it is not.
All other matters relating to this issue are outside of our remit.
So what is Narconon?
According to the official Church of Scientology website Narconon is a "highly effective drug-free withdrawal, detoxification and rehabilitation program which utilizes techniques developed by L. Ron Hubbard. Narconon, meaning “no drugs,” began as a grass-roots movement in the mid-1960s when an inmate of the Arizona State Prison solved his own drug problem using principles found in one of L. Ron Hubbard’s books. He then used those same principles to help solve drug-related problems of fellow inmates."
"Today, the Narconon drug rehabilitation procedure is at work in over 40 nations. More than a quarter-million are now living drug-free lives through Narconon programs, while an estimated 18 million more have been reached through Narconon drug education services.
"With success rates at least four times higher than international averages, Mr. Hubbard’s drug rehab technology has given rise to some 200 Narconon centers and groups. At the hub of the network is Narconon Arrowhead in Oklahoma where rehab specialists learn to apply the program to handle drug problems other facilities are loath to even touch."