NXIVM, an American organisation that has lost two court cases in the US against a website which it claims portrayed it as a cult, has begun running executive coaching programmes in Ireland.
The training courses are run by an associated company called Executive Success Programs (ESP). ESP is fronted in Ireland by Sara Bronfman, daughter of Edgar Bronfman, whose family has made a fortune from the Seagram drinks empire.
Nxivm (pronounced Nex-ee-um) has held introductory meetings at the Burlington hotel in Dublin over the past two weeks. According to one person who attended, the gatherings attracted twentysomethings from well-to-do Irish families.
In August of last year Nxivm filed a $10m (¬15.7m) suit against Rick Ross, who describes himself as a "cult deprogrammer," John Hochman, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Paul Martin, a clinical psychologist.
Martin and Hochman had published critiques on Ross's website. Nxivm said they had unfairly portrayed it as a cult. Thomas McAvoy, the district judge of Albany and an appeal court judge in New York City said the critiques were fair criticism. Nxivm is appealing the decision to the US Supreme Court.
Ailbhe Gerrard, a project manager from Tipperary now living in Dublin, went to a Nxivm introductory talk at the Burlington hotel. During the talk Bronfman spoke about how ESP had improved her life and introduced those present to Edgar Boone, a Mexican whom she described as a vice- president of ESP.
According to Gerrard, Boone promised that those who took the ESP would benefit from "dramatic changes in perception". The five-day courses cost ¬2,700, with a 20% discount for those who signed up within 48 hours of the introductory event.
According to the Nxivm literature: "Our primary desire is to help create a data-based, rational and ethical world. It's very simple: factual data exist all around us - it's there for us to gather, and we can do so by merely observing reality. The less factual data with which we sustain our opinions, the more likely we may become invested in them; the more invested we are the more our disputes on differences of opinion are likely to escalate."
When contacted, Bronfman referred all queries to Boone, who initially said that he would be happy to assist but then referred all queries to a Nxivm office in America.
Calls to the number supplied were answered by Brendan Flanagan, who described himself as a Nxivm accountant and promised to have another representative call back.
One week later Nxivm had still not responded to queries.