The Narconon Centre in Ballivor

Controversial drugs rehab centre gets green light after High Court ruling

Narconon has been given the go-ahead to open its controversial €9m drugs rehab centre in Ballivor after the High Court this morning quashed an An Bord Pleanala decision that it needed planning permission for a change of use at the facility.

The Church of Scientology-linked drug residential rehabilitation centre which had its planning refused despite most of the building work being completed had gone to the High Court in a bid to quash An Bord Pleanala’s decision. An Bord Pleanála now has four weeks to consider seeking leave to appeal.

The Narconan Trust had sought a judicial review of an An Bord Pleanala ruling that they needed planning permission for a change of use at the facility in Ballivor that was originally intended to be used as a nursing home.

Narconon Trust purchased the property in Ballivor after Meath County Council confirmed, in a Section 5 Declaration in September 2016, that planning permission was not required for a change of use from a nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation centre. Consequently, the building was developed as a modern alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre. More than two years later, when construction work on the building was nearly complete, An Bord Pleanala made a contradictory declaration.

Protests outisde the Narconon centre in November 2018

In January 2019, the High Court granted a stay on the Board's declaration and also granted an application for leave to bring judicial review proceedings against An Bord Pleanala.

In conclusion, Judge Mark Heslin said today: "For the reasons detailed in the judgement, I consider it necessary to grant an Order, by way of judicial review, quashing the the decisions made by the Respondent (ABP) on the 19th November 2018 pursuant to to section 5 of the 200 Act in respect of referrals from An Bord Pleanala, whereby the Respondent purported to decide that the change of of use from a nursing home development to a residential facility, permitted under planning authority at the former old national school site in Ballivor, Co Meath is development and is not exempted development."

FROM 2018: INSIDE NARCONON: ‘We want people to know there is nothing to be scared of’

The decision of this judicial review was what was under consideration in recent months and this morning in the High Court Judge Heslin ruled in favour of the Narconon Trust.

Narconon has previously stated the centre would cater for 30 people and 18 staff in a 3,100 sq. metre modern facility in the heart of Ballivor village

Narconon has operated drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes for more than 50 years across 18 countries around the world, including in the UK where Narconon has been registered as a charity since 1974.

The Narconon facility is situated beside the Ballivor Community Garden

In a statement a spokesperson for the Narconon trust said:

"Narconon welcomes the decision in which Mr. Justice Mark Heslin stated that he considered it necessary to grant an order by way of judicial review quashing the decisions made by the Bord on 19th November 2018 whereby the Bord purported to decide that the change of use from a nursing home development to residential drug rehabilitation facility permitted by Meath County Council is development and is not exempted development.

"Narconon executives and staff are looking forward to helping Ireland fight the scourge of addiction. In a country where the drug crisis is exploding with 65% of Irish professionals reporting some addiction experience, effective drug rehabilitation is urgently needed."

Peadar Tóibín TD meeting members of the Ballivor Says No group

Speaking after the verdict, campaigner Claire O'Mara told the Meath Chronicle: "We are all gutted about this decision. We have tirelessly put in so much effort and research over two years into Narconon and Scientology and wanted to protect the people of Ballivor from being exposed to these people. If they do open it will be a very sad day for Ballivor and it will only not be of any benefit for anyone in the Village. A nursing home would have been a much better choice creating jobs for the people of Ballivor and giving the elderly a residental home within their own village. Very disappointing indeed."

Local TD and campaigner against the facility Peadar Tóibín TD has stated. “This is a terrible result of Ballivor and the campaign. It means a totally unregulated drug rehabilitation centre will open up in a small rural village in Meath.

“I questioned the Minister for Health as to whether there was any regulation or licence for the regulation or inspection of residential treatment or rehabilitation centres specialising in addiction.

“He stated there is currently no provision in legislation for the regulation or inspection of residential treatment or rehabilitation centres specialising in addiction”.

Trim Cllr Noel French said: "All I ever wanted was for the process to be open and for the people of Ballivor to have a say in decisions concerning themselves. I want to pay tribute to the great women who were on the Committee of “Ballivor community group” who each in their own way and for their own reasons fought this decision. Great is too small a word."

In response to the decision, Meath Co Council told the Meath Chronicle: 

“The council notes the reported decision of the High Court in relation to this matter and while we have not yet had sight of the full text of the judgement it appears that the Court has agreed with this council’s interpretation of the legislation insofar as it relates to exempted development”.

More to follow...

MORE ON THIS STORY FROM 2019: Residents concerns over controversial drug rehab centre bedrooms overlooking community garden