The Narconon facility (artist's impression) in Ballivor

Supreme Court to decide on Narconon drugs rehab centre

The fate of the Church of Scientology-linked drugs rehab centre in Ballivor will now be decided in the Supreme Court after An Bord Pleanala was given permission to bring an appeal regarding Section 5 Planning Declarations which establishes if a particular development is or is not an exempted development.

Narconon Trust purchased the property in Ballivor after Meath Co 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 an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre.

More than two years later, in 2018, when construction work on the building was nearly complete, An Bord Pleanála made a contradictory declaration.

In January of this year, Narconon Trust was given the go-ahead to open the controversial €9m drugs rehab centre in Ballivor after the High Court quashed the An Bord Pleanala decision that it needed planning permission for a change of use at the facility.

The High Court had decided that ABP did not have the power to make decisions in respect of what was, in fact, an attempt to question, in 2018, the validity of the Council's 2016 decision concerning the same matter, while no change of circumstances was present and while mandatory procedures to challenge the decision were not followed.

The High Court established in its decision in January 2020 that to permit this "would be offensive to the concept of legal certainty and would result in an injustice."

An Bord Pleanála was given four weeks to consider seeking leave to appeal.

Today Mr Justice Mark Heslin gave An Bord Pleanala permission to bring an appeal to the Court of Appeal regarding Section 5 Planning Declarations, after the Board argued that the Court of Appeal could clarify the law in this area for this and other cases involving similar issues.

Narconon is a drug-free, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme operating for more than 50 years across 18 countries around the world, including in the UK since 1974.

The Ballivor operation would be the first Narconon facility in Ireland and its links to the Church of Scientology and controversial methods of treatment have drawn serious criticisms from the local Ballivor community with protests held at the former nursing home and outside Meath Co Council.

A Narconon spokesperson today said: "There is a grave need for residential rehabilitation in Ireland. In March 2020 the HSE Working Group on Residential Treatment and Rehabilitation reported that 365 more beds are urgently needed in the country to deal with the demand for residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation. The crisis has worsened significantly during the recent lockdown period.

"At the end of the day it is the drug and alcohol addicts and their families who suffer. Since the start of this dispute on planning matters more people in Ireland have died of drug-related causes (over 1,800) than those who lost their lives due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a horrific crisis and all we are trying to do is help people in need.

"Thousands of people from around the world, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds have gone through the Narconon programme to date reporting that it has helped them get off drugs and alcohol, stay drugfree, rebuild their lives and reunite with their families."

There is no date scheduled for the appeal.

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