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Rachel Jenkins

Scientologists target schoolchildren

Two groups backed by the Church of Scientology hired stands at a state-run education conference in Kilkenny last week, which they used to ask school administrators for permission to make presentations to students.

Applied Scholastics and the Foundation for a Drug-Free World were among the 55 stall-holders at the Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) conference held in the Lyrath Estate hotel in Kilkenny over two days. The conference was attended by Richard Bruton, the education minister, and 500 delegates from education and training boards (ETBs).

ETBs are responsible for managing and operating second-level schools, further education colleges, multifaith community national schools, and a range of adult and further education centres.

An attendee at the event said the two Scientology-backed organisations were asking teachers and school administrators to allow them to give classes on drug safety in schools. “I saw them talking to lots of teachers, and anyone I spoke to had no idea who they were,” claimed the conference source.

Neither organisation responded to email queries.

Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the ETBI, said he became aware the Foundation for a Drug-Free World was a Scientology-backed group two weeks ago, when Newstalk reported on its presence at the TY Expo.

“We had a contract because they paid for a stand,” said Moriarty. “There were no children at this conference. They are all adults. What should I do? They are against drugs and I’ve no problem with that. I checked it with people and they were reasonably positive about them.

“We are a multi-denominational body so we can’t discriminate. If somebody came here from Islam, as long as it was legal I couldn’t stop them. If Tom Cruise turned up here and he was a Scientologist, what do you do? I’m happy enough they are not a banned or an illegal organisation. There were only intelligent, bright adults at my conference who could make up their own minds.”

The Church of Scientology has been attempting to increase its reach in Ireland. Earlier this month its groups hired stands at the TY transition-year exhibition attended by 7,000 secondary school students in Leopardstown.

The Scientologists opened a national affairs office in Dublin’s Merrion Square last year and are planning to open an auditorium with 1,300 seats in the Victory Centre in Firhouse next month.

Pete Griffiths, a former Scientologist, has claimed the Foundation for a Drug-Free World and Applied Scholastics have been set up to further the teachings of L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, while hiding their links to the religion.

“The only purpose of those campaigns is to make Scientology acceptable,” said Griffiths. “They have a big desire to be accepted but they have to hide who they are.”

Griffiths believes the ETBI should not have given the Scientologists a platform. “They need to be aware that Scientology only has one purpose and that’s to recruit more people,” said Griffiths.