A group with links to the Church of Scientology has confirmed it plans to open a drug rehabilitation centre in County Meath.
Narconon, which was developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and which says it is "supported by the Church of Scientology and individual Scientologists", confirmed today that a building in Ballivor in Meath will become a residential drug rehabilitation centre.
In a press release, Narconon say that the "multi-million euro project" will be worth "in the region of €850,000 per year to the local community" as well as providing six full-time jobs to locals in the areas of "catering, housekeeping and landscape maintenance."
A spokesperson for the PR company representing Narconon told Independent.ie that no building work has started at the site and there is no date for the opening of the centre as yet.
This is the first official confirmation from Narconon to the national media that the controversial centre will go ahead.
The centre is unpopular with residents of Ballivor concerned about the group’s presence in the village of around 2,000 people.
At a protest at the site in January Florence Hamilton, who runs Little Steps Montessori which would neighbour the rehab facility said: “We’re right beside it and there’s a creche across the road and a primary school too.
“My major concern is this is a drug treatment facility and it’s in an area where there around 400 young children.
“This would never be so close to children’s facilities if it was a State-run rehab centre, so this just doesn’t make any sense.
“The County Council has never listened to Ballivor and it’s time they started because we do not want this centre here.”
At the January protest more than 100 protesters carried placards and marched outside the old national school building - which had originally been expected to become a nursing home.
In their statement today, Narconon say that they obtained planning permission from Meath County Council in September 2016 which included permission to change the use if the building from a nursing home to a residential drug rehab centre.
In January, Independent.ie reported on an e-mail from Meath County Council to Fine Gael Councilor Noel French where they confirmed the planning request.
In the email, a spokesperson for Meath County Council said: "We had previously confirmed that there had been no recent requests for pre-planning meetings and no recent contacts relating to the development and that remains the position.
"We have now carried further searches to establish if there had been any applications or contacts in previous years by The Church of Scientology or Narconon.
"The Council can now confirm that in August 2016 we were requested by the Narconon Trust c/o McGill Planning, 7 Fitzwilliam Street Upper, Dublin 2, to make a declaration in accordance with Part V of the Planning & Development Acts as to whether or not a change of use from a nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility was an exempted development.
"The Council issued a declaration on 2nd October 2016 that the change of use as outlined in their submission was exempted development (and therefore would not require planning permission)."
Speaking to Independent.ie in January, Councillor French said: "Ballivor is not happy with the proposal of a drug rehab centre of this size in a very small community and obviously it's linked with the Church of Scientology.
"This centre would be using unrecognised methods for rehabilitation and we think that people will be indoctrinated with Scientology teachings."