Scientologists hired firm to lobby politicians on church ‘ideals’

Company set up between six and 10 meetings with politicians for the Church of Scientology

The Church of Scientology and Community Centre in Firhouse, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The Church of Scientology and Community Centre in Firhouse, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The controversial Church of Scientology hired a consultant to lobby local councillors and TDs on the “ideals” of the group, ahead of their centre in Firhouse, Dublin opening.

Kieran O’Byrne, a public relations consultant who runs the firm CCIPR, pushed the new centre and its facilities with local politicians, as well as providing general PR work for the group.

Mr O’Byrne’s work for the church was recorded in a return made to the official lobbying register by his firm. The return outlined the aim of the lobbying was “that politicians understand the Church of Scientology’s ideals”. It detailed that the firm set up between six and 10 meetings with politicians for the group, both at the new centre or in politician’s offices.

The large church and community centre opened in October, as the European base of the church.

In an email sent to South Dublin County councillors, Mr O’Byrne invited politicians to attend a briefing and tour of the centre before it opened. It said the centre’s facilities such as meeting rooms, auditorium and sports pitches would be available for community groups to use for free. Councillors received several follow up emails and phone calls as well.

Persistent

One councillor, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was “an unusual amount of lobbying” and “persistent” in nature. “I just ignored them, I would have serious concerns about the organisation.” The councillor said it felt like an attempt to “love bomb” local politicians to get them on side.

Mr O’Byrne said the church wanted “to be part of the community”. He said while some local politicians responded to approaches, others “refuse to engage at all”.

Several local councillors confirmed they met Scientology representatives including Deirdre O’Donovan (Independent Alliance), Paul Foley (Fianna Fáil), Dermot Richardson (Sinn Féin) and Brian Lawlor (Fine Gael).

Mr Foley said he met representatives from the group to raise concerns local people had brought to his attention. “They listened to what I had to say but didn’t really address the questions,” he said.

He said Scientology members had told him they wanted to “build bridges with society both locally and regionally”, but he said there was a lot of scepticism in the area about the group’s motivations.

Ms O’Donovan said she met with members of the church as constituents had raised concerns about the new centre. “I wanted to see for myself” how the group were operating, she said.

Development plans

The Church of Scientology last week applied for planning permission to add an outdoor playground to the centre.

The PR group also contacted the local TDs in the Dublin South-West constituency to arrange meetings, but only Fine Gael’s Colm Brophy took up the offer, meeting Scientology representatives in Leinster House.

Mr O’Byrne runs a another firm, Environmental Communications Consultants Ltd. He was also a former chairman of conservation group Birdwatch Ireland up until June 2016. Mr O’Byrne said his environmental work was entirely separate to his general public relations firm, and his work for the Church of Scientology.