Haughey nephew sells home to join bizarre Australian cult

Sunday Irish Independent/June 29, 2003

A nephew of Charles Haughey has shocked friends and family by selling his home and taking his family to join a controversial Australian cult which has been accused of brainwashing.

Niall Haughey has left Ireland behind to live with the enclosed religious group Magnificat Meal Movement (MMM), whose members are told to believe that the outside world is evil. This cult hit the headlines recently when a mother took her cancer-stricken daughter there in the hope of finding a miracle cure.

The son of the former Taoiseach's brother Sean - a city and county manager who retired in 1989 - travelled with his wife Maria and their three young children to the camp in Helidon, Queensland, Northern Australia.

Haughey, 42, closed down his insurance business and family home in Co Tipperary before making the move in March.

Sources close to the Haughey family say they have handed over most of their money to MMM leader Debra Burslem (formerly Geileskey) and will now live simply off the land belonging to the cult.

Burslem, who claims she has visions of the Virgin Mary, has amassed a property empire worth more than $3.5m.

Friends are extremely concerned for the Haugheys' welfare and say the move was a huge surprise.

A source said: "They had a house in Marino in Dublin and sold that about two years ago, to buy one in Tipperary.

"They moved down the country so they could have a quieter, more spiritual life, although he continued to work.

"Next thing, he left his business and this now must be the next step for them. But it's worrying to think of this family in the cult: it's so insular.

"It's certainly shocked a lot of people."

The source added that Haughey is now working as a farmer on the cult's land. It is not known when, if ever, the Haughey family plan to return to Ireland.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent , Sean Haughey confirmed that his son had left Ireland to devote all his time to the cult:

"I am aware he and his family are out there with a religious group called the Magnificat Meal Movement . . . but I am not worried about him at all, he's grand. There's no problem."

But he admitted that he has not been in contact with his son since his departure. .

Irish cult expert Mike Garde has been investigating the MMM since 1997 and has just returned from the cult's base in northeast Queensland. Garde said the cult "brainwash" their members, who have been known to sell houses they own near the headquarters and give 30 per cent to Debra Burslem, who tells them the Virgin Mary says to do so.

Garde believes the cult is based more on making money than any spiritual belief.

"Its initials MMM should really stand for Make More Money," he said. "Burslem owns a lot of property in the area now." Land title searches reveal she owns or part-owns at least 20 properties, including homes, farms, offices, shops and units.

She has four Mercedes Benz cars and is listed as the director of at least 10 companies. "When this group started out ten years ago, it was a genuine spiritual movement and its leader Burslem was regarded as a Catholic missionary," explained Garde.

"But it's not that any more. Over the years, it has developed from a Catholic movement to a sect - and now it has completely turned in on itself and it is a cult."

Followers of the cult are encouraged to join the commune as "slaves" for a year and follow strict prayer routines. Burslem has said she especially likes helping young girls, in order to "protect their virginity".

Due to its initial Catholic connections, a number of the MMM's estimated 60 members are Irish "There are people there from all over the world, but about half a dozen of them or more are Irish, which is quite a high percentage," said Garde. "They are on private land and stay amongst themselves, never venturing out. The movement believes that the outside world is evil."

The MMM was at the centre of controversy two weeks ago when leukaemia-sufferer Nora Hanly, from Co Donegal, was taken to the cult's camp in Australia by her mother in order to be cured. Mother and daughter arrived back in Ireland last week and Nora is currently receiving treatment in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, Dublin.

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