Health officials raised concerns about a Church of Scientology-sponsored group that circulated glossy anti-drugs brochures to primary schools in Dublin's north inner city, records reveal.
Internal emails disclose unease across the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) about approaches made to schools and local drugs tasks forces by Foundation for a Drug Free World and Truth about Drugs, both of which are sponsored by Scientology. However, their links to the controversial "religion" were not disclosed in educational packs that were sent to schools.
In an email last February, the co-ordinator of a drugs task force in Dublin wrote: "I have just received some very glossy looking training and workshop materials from the 'Church of Scientology' who apparently are conducting drug talks in schools in the north inner city of Dublin and are interested in spreading the word this direction. I am concerned about this."
The coordinator proposed linking in with the Department of Health on the issue, "because if they haven't already, schools here will need to be approached. The materials are very enticing and I worry about the potential reach."
In response to questions from the Sunday Independent, the Church of Scientology yesterday declared plans to step up its anti-drugs activities in Ireland while taking aim at "vested interests" and "agendas".
The statement said the Church also intends to "significantly increase" its efforts to "educate" Irish people. It also claimed that 600,000 Truth about Drugs booklets have been distributed in Ireland in the past two years.
The Church of Scientology has invested heavily in Ireland in the past two years, generating much controversy but issuing little comment on its plans for the country.
It opened a €6m community centre in Firhouse, south Dublin, a national affairs office on Merrion Square in Dublin, along with a number of other properties, including a former nursing home in Ballivor, Co Meath, that it plans to turn into a drug rehab centre.
The Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has called the Church of Scientology "a cult" that could damage young people. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has acknowledged there are "genuine concerns" that it could be a cult.
Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that unease about Scientology has also reached official circles.
Asked about the booklets by a Department of Health official, a HSE official replied that: "The content doesn't look ridiculous at first glance. Endorsement by official Ireland of their approach, though, would bring a very negative press once the backer was reported. In this post-truth, fake fact world, it's really hard to know what is really going on."
Another official emailed colleagues to say that guidelines for Outside Visitors were being "updated" to "ensure that schools are discouraged from using speakers/resources such as this".
The Department of Education said it has had no contact with the Department of Health or the HSE on this matter but will issue "revised circulars" to schools in March to provide strengthened guidance on external programmes.
The Church of Scientology's statement to the Sunday Independent said drug abuse is a "huge problem" for Ireland. It is "educating" people on the "truth about drugs", providing free "secular" educational materials that "we are continually told" are not otherwise available.
"The Church's efforts to discourage drug abuse through education have come across vested interests and agendas in the past and are likely to continue to do so," it said.