Meath Scientology drug rehab centre set to open early next year following court ruling

The controversial facility has had its planning permission upheld by the Court of Appeal, overturning An Bord Pleanála’s 2018 decision

Narconon Trust bought the building, which had existing planning permission for a nursing home in 2016, after it had confirmed with Meath County Council’s planners that it did not require “change of use” planning to develop a drug addiction treatment centre there instead

A Church of Scientology-backed drug addiction treatment centre in Co Meath is expected to open early next year now that the Court of Appeal has decided in its favour.

Last Wednesday, the court upheld an earlier High Court ruling that overturned a decision by An Bord Pleanála that the Ballivor based centre required a change in planning permission.

The 56-bed facility is all but ready to open, a source connected to Narconon Trust, the Scientology linked body that is operating it, said.

Narconon Trust bought the building, which had existing planning permission for a nursing home in 2016, after it had confirmed with Meath County Council’s planners that it did not require “change of use” planning to develop a drug addiction treatment centre there instead.

It has spent in the region of €12 million on planning and development at the facility, where its stated aim, according to financial filings for the Narconon Trust UK, is to open a site for “the rehabilitation of drug users in Ireland”.

Its controversial treatment methods, such as drug-free withdrawal techniques are not endorsed by any widely recognised medical, scientific or psychiatric body.

The Department of Health has said previously that its method “comprises a series of interventions with limited or no basis in a scientific understanding of human physiology and brain functioning”.

The HSE has stated that the Narconon treatment method has not been endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the US, and has no standing among medical professionals in Ireland.

The Church of Scientology in Ireland, however, said that Narconon centres were set up to comply with “the highest health and safety standards in each country where they operate”. It claims that thousands of people have successfully completed drug and alcohol treatment programmes at their facilities. There are around 40 such centres around the world.

The Church of Scientology has a “national affairs” office on Merrion Square in Dublin’s city centre and a large centre at Firhouse in west Dublin, acquired for €6 million in 2016.

As previously reported by the Business Post, the Firhouse centre carries out its sauna “purification” and high dose vitamin treatments and “auditing” processes there.

Noel French, a Fine Gael councillor who has been involved with local campaigns opposing the Ballivor drug treatment centre, said that the Section V “exempted development” element of the planning laws required reform.

“My big argument always was that the people did not get a say in it,” he said. “Nobody gets to see these Section V exemptions publicly, which is a crazy situation.

“There isn’t any recourse now really,” he said regarding options for those opposing the centre locally. “We were the mouse that roared. Six women and myself took on this international organisation and got questions raised. The law says that a nursing home is the equivalent of a drug rehab centre.”

It cost the local campaign against the centre around €15,000 in legal support, he said, even though it was An Bord Pleanála that took the Court of Appeal case. “We couldn’t afford to go to court.”

The bigger issue was the lack of state funded, HSE endorsed drug treatment facilities, he said.

The facility has been at the centre of controversy since Narconon Trust purchased the property in Ballivor in 2016 and was told by Meath County Council that planning permission was not required for its change of use.

In February 2018, as the development was nearing completion, Ballivor Community Group and Trim Municipal District of Meath County Council sought various declarations from the council, asking if the proposed centre was an exempted development.

The council referred the matter to An Bord Pleanála, which in November that year held that the change of use would necessitate a new application.

In January 2020, the High Court quashed the An Bord Pleánala decision, allowing the centre to open. The court found that the planning authority did not have the power to make decisions about the council’s 2016 ruling, as there had been no change of circumstances, and that mandatory procedures to challenge the decision had not been followed. This decision was appealed by An Bord Pleánala, but the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s ruling.

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