Mardi Gras with a sinister edge as Scientologists open new Dublin HQ
The question of how Scientology would transplant its cultish craziness into a leafy Dublin street was answered on Saturday afternoon as a small crowd of about 200 gathered to watch the ribbon cutting on the group's new national affairs office on Merrion Square.
It was like a mini Mardi Gras with a sinister edge. A line of people waved Irish flags and sang as a small band played As The Saints Go Marching In. A cheer went up as party streamers ignited and the doors swung open to "the public" - which excluded any passers by or members of the press, who were strictly barred from entering (journalists are thought of as 'merchants of chaos' by the church).
This was in keeping with the atmosphere of secrecy that pervaded the event. None of the gathered Scientologists would speak on the record about their new venture, which was attended by some bigwigs from the international church.
Disappointingly, Scientology's best known adherents, Tom Cruise and John Travolta, were absent. Zabrina Collins, a prominent Irish Scientologist, and the daughter of wrongfully convicted Donegal publican, Frank Shortt, glowered at waiting press. Meanwhile, Pete Griffiths, a former church member against whom she took out an injunction, waited on the other side of the square. He later claimed that he had been followed and intimidated by members of the church.
In America, the church (which is not registered here as a charity) has public streets shut down for grand openings, but since that isn't possible in central Dublin, they relied on heavy-handed security - one Scientologist told me I would "get myself in serious trouble" for standing on Merrion Square. As the mob spilled out onto the street and gardai arrived on the scene, a third Scientologist had a taxi hold up traffic on the square itself, causing a long, if brief, tailback. (I was later told she was merely "inquiring about a fare").
There will be 12 full-time staff members at the new Dublin office, but a spokesman for the church refused to answer questions about how the roughly €2m purchase price of such a prestigious address - minutes from government buildings - was financed last year.
One of the attendees of the Dublin event, Janet Laveau, once told The Guardian that negative publicity about the church actually aids it in recruitment drives.
The last few years must be considered enlistment gold as the church has continued to be mired in controversy. According to reports in America and Britain, Cathriona White - the recently deceased girlfriend of Jim Carrey - and her husband Mark Burton, were Scientologists.
The church itself corroborated the report about White, but denied any link with her suicide, releasing a statement: "Saying that somebody was studying Scientology in the past and connecting that to a suicide is like saying a person who had previously studied the Bible committed suicide."
Louis Theroux's recent documentary, My Scientology Movie, shone further light on the bizarre and sinister allegations about the religion that counts Tom Cruise as its second in command.
There are only a smattering of Scientologists in Ireland, but the heavy presence of the church here is thought to be a response, in part, to relentlessly critical press coverage. Company accounts for the church showed that donations rose by almost 76pc last year.
Scientology founder, L Ron Hubbard, briefly set up an office on Merrion Square in the 1950s. The place has changed a lot since then. Oscar Wilde, whose monument looked down bemusedly on the whole scene, once said that religion was "like a blind man looking in a black room for a black cat that isn't there, and finding it".
Whether Hubbard's adherents manage to find their footing in Dublin remains to be seen.