The Church of Scientology opened a new National Affairs Office on Dublin’s Merrion Square a year ago.
The group founded by sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard – which counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta as members – said it aims to tackle homelessness and drugs.
Last week supporters of its teachings were out in force at The Square shopping centre in Tallaght handing out leaflets.
And the organisation has reportedly just bought a 1,200-seat former church in nearby Firhouse.
Some consider it a cult to the stars, others a harmless self-help group.
Here former members living in Ireland tell their stories.
Sitting in a sauna for up to four hours and taking 300mg of Niacin in one go during the month-long purification process didn’t deter John McGhee.
Even when he “started glowing bright red” and was told it was the “radiation leaving his body” he stuck with it.
It was only when he moved on to the survival programme to “clear his thoughts” and witnessed a fellow recruit have a mental breakdown he decided he’d had enough.
John, now working as an embalmer and living in Clara, Co Offaly, told the Irish Sunday Mirror: “He was my course twin and we had to keep telling each other to walk across the room and touch the wall. I saw him have a complete meltdown. He physically changed in front of me. He went grey, was sweating.
“He said, ‘Help me please, I feel terrible’. His face dropped but I didn’t know what to do.” John panicked and called the supervisor from the next room who in turn called for the “lead auditor” to assess the situation.
He recalled: “They said he would have to have repair auditing at their Saint Hill centre in England and that it would cost €6,000 but he had to come up with the money before they would fix him. That was it for me.
“I checked out in 2008. To this day that poor guy hasn’t received that fix as far as I know but he’s still with them and won’t talk to me. For me it was like an onion. There are mild layers on the outside but when you get to the centre it’s more
sinister and it will sting you.”
Pete Griffiths lost his home and had to start from scratch after he spent years working for the organisation – on zero wages.
He insisted his experience taught him there was no more to Scientology than recruiting followers and persuading them to buy books and enrol on expensive courses.
Pete, who lives in Mayo, said: “Whatever money you made a percentage went to your ‘upline’.
“And whatever you sold in terms of books you had to replace.
“If you do everything available to you in terms of courses and material it can end up costing you anything from €350,000 to €500,000.
“I was involved for seven years but the mental damage went on for a lot longer. There’s a lot of love-bombing at the start. It’s very subtle the way it happens but it is a form of mind control.
“Certain emotions are discouraged, including sympathy – that’s why Scientologists seem so cold-hearted.
“My brother was in the Sea Org, which is hardcore, for 24 years.
“He left five years ago and still won’t talk to me about his experience.
“It’s like he’s still in the mindset and needs something to wake him up. I still don’t know how he got out.
“I had to escape without telling them because even if you say you want to leave there are a number of steps you have to go through aimed at persuading you to stay and it can take years.”
John Duignan, who documented his experience in a book called The Complex, left in 2006 but admitted it took him a decade to readjust to “outside” life.
He spent 22 years in the Sea Org – Scientology’s most dedicated group whose members once wore naval uniform and lived on ships in international waters.
He told the Irish Sunday Mirror: “I didn’t see the light of day for 20 years. The system is a pressure cooker because you’re with these people 24 hours a day.
“They got me when I was very depressed. Three pretty girls asked me to fill in a questionnaire and from there I was roped in. You live in a bubble. There’s no radio, TV, newspapers, and the internet is banned.
“Then I began to unravel the whole thing and could no longer accept the teachings – that non-Scientologists are called WOGs and considered not quite up to standard, and if you’re disabled you’re called a degraded being.”
John left “on the sly” with a bag of belongings before going home to Cork.
He said: “After I got out it was very, very, very difficult. I had fallen to pieces. I was in a dangerous suicidal depression.
“But I finally realised Scientology does not work in the real world – and that I’d wasted more than 20 years of my life.”