Jul 23, 2018

Officials asked FF TD to drop Scientology question

The Church of Scientology building in Los Angeles (Stock picture)

The Church of Scientology building in Los Angeles

Maeve Sheehan
July 22, 2018

A simple question asking Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan for his view on a controversial Church of Scientology centre prompted a flurry of emails among officials in his department, with one official wondering what "cults" had to do with the minister.

The question was posed by Fianna Fail TD John Lahart after the church's community centre opened in his Dublin South West constituency last October. Mr Lahart sought a "topical debate" on the issue, seeking Mr Flanagan's views on the centre but an official later asked him to withdraw it.

"I have spoken to [John Lahart] on this. He is submitting this topical issue on the concern around security to the State and issues surrounding cult status," one civil servant wrote in an email sent to colleagues.

A colleague responded: "It is not clear to me that this is a matter for the Department (never mind for this division). Since when did the Minister for Justice have responsibility for the regulation of religion (or cults or whatever they may be)?"

He added: "The 'security of the State' angle advanced by the deputy is patent nonsense." Civil servants tried to get the question reassigned or dropped, going so far as to discuss the issue with John Lahart and his staff.

"He agreed to withdraw it, then resubmitted it again," an official emailed.

"Hours wasted!"

Another email outlined how the topical debate required a four-minute opening speech and a two-minute concluding speech which set officials looking for something suitable the Minister could say.

John Lahart, who never got his answer as the topical issue was not selected, said this weekend: "All I was attempting to do was find out had red flags been raised in the Department or gardai at any level regarding the Church of Scientology in Firhouse."

He added if there are public concerns - major or minor - concerning an organisation, and the Department of Justice is not the place to go, then where does a public representative go to raise those concerns?"

The Church of Scientology has invested huge resources in Ireland, setting up a national office in Merrion Square in Dublin as well as the "community centre" and church in Firhouse.

A planned drug addiction centre is under construction in Ballivor, a village in Co Meath despite concerns from the local community.

The Church of Scientology has said it is pro-active in drug education in Ireland, providing material free of charge.

Sunday Independent


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