Parents and residents of Ballivor protesting at the start of construction works on the Narconon facility in 2018. PHOTO: Seamus Farrelly

Court decision paves the way for drug rehab centre to open

Narconon's plans to open a residential drug rehab centre in Ballivor have once again got the green light after the Court of Appeal upheld last year's High Court ruling that paved the way for it to open.

Both the High Court, and subsequently the Court of Appeal, found that Bord Pleanala was incorrect to decide that the facility needed a new planning permission.

However, the avenue is open to Bord Pleanala to appeal the judgment to the Supreme Court and opponents to the facility are pleading with them to do this.

A spokesperson for Bord Pleanala confirmed that the Board can appeal a Court of Appeal decision and take it to the Supreme Court, adding: "In this particular case as the judgment has just recently been made, the Board needs time to review the judgment and seek advice in terms of next steps".

Meanwhile, Narconon Trust welcomed the Court of Appeal's decision but has not yet given a date for opening the controversial centre saying the Covid pandemic is the next obstacle to overcome.

Sheila Maclean of Narconon said: "Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have now confirmed the 2016 Section 5 declaration of Meath County Council stands as valid. Both courts found there has been no change in planning facts or circumstances since the 2016 declaration. Ms Justice Caroline Costello described, in the main judgment, that the 2018 referral for another Section 5 declaration outside of the proper procedures was an 'impermissible attack' on the initial declaration. This clarifies the matter for all concerned."

Claire O'Mara, one of the most vocal opponents to the Church of Scientology-linked Narconon centre said she was "disappointed and frustrated" by the Court of Appeal's ruling and has "pleaded" with Bord Pleanala to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

"The people of Ballivor are asking, they are pleading to Bord Pleanala to appeal this case to the Supreme Court. We are asking for TDs and councillors and Taoiseach Micheal Martin to stand up and hear us. Yes, we are a small village, but we want to be heard and we don't understand why people won't listen."

Ms O'Mara, one of the original committee members of the Ballivor Says No group, said it is now in Bord Pleanala's hands and has also appealed for legislation around drug treatment centres.

She has also refuted claims by Narconon that people's attitudes have changed over the past two years.

"They need to take their heads out of the clouds. The people in Ballivor in the shops have to serve them have and have to be polite but that doesn't mean they are welcoming them into the community."

"They are trying to infiltrate themselves into our community. They are not being welcomed. They are offering assistance to the community in Ballivor and they've been refused.

"I am praying to God that Pleanala appeal it. We have been fighting for so long, no other group has challenged Scientology as much as we have. We are not giving up now. We are not going anywhere."

Reacting to the ruling Cllr Noel French said his greatest difficulty with Narconon was that planning for the facility was secured under a Section 5 process, which did not allow the people of Ballivor an opportunity to have their say on what was proposed.

“Not only did it not allow the people of Ballivor have their say, but it was done without public knowledge.

“The decision to allow the go-ahead was not made public knowledge and it took approximately 18 months for local people to secure information on it.”

He said the matter was now in Bord Pleanala's hands. "It is completed out of our hands. We stepped back when Bord Pleanala stepped in."

Deputy Peadar Tóibín said the decision was obviously a big blow for the people of Ballivor, but also for the treatment of people with drug addiction.

“The HSE has told me there is no evidence to suggest the treatment provided is effective in the treatment of drug addiction.

“The lack of facilities for treating drug addiction is a problem. I have asked the Government a number of times to regulate the service, but they have failed to do so.

“Right now anyone can set up a clinic using any regime and the Government wouldn't take an interest in it,” he said.

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 last 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. An appeal was then taken by Bord Pleanala over the ruling but the Court of Appeal upheld it.

It is not clear when the residential centre, which is to accommodate 34 recovering addicts and 18 staff is set to open, with Narconon citing the Covid situation as the next obstacle they would need to overcome.

"The pandemic and the Covid-19 scene worsening in Ireland at the moment is the next obstacle we would need to overcome, like many other projects and organisations at this stage. In view of the latest developments on this, it is difficult to predict at the moment when exactly will we be able to open the facility for use," said Ms Maclean.