Tuesday, 1 June 2004
Prisons Building Programme.
Question 43: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has made a decision on the expressions of interest in the construction of a new prison in a greenfield site close to Dublin to replace Mountjoy Prison, which he told Dáil Éireann he expected to make by the end of March 2004; when he will announce a decision on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16305/04]
The Office of Public Works was asked earlier this year to assist in the identification of possible sites for a complex to replace the current prison facilities centred around Mountjoy Prison. The Office of Public Works subsequently made inquiries which included the placing of advertisements in the national press and, arising from this process, approximately 30 potential sites have been submitted for consideration.
In view of the importance of identifying the most appropriate site and in the light of the large number of potential sites, I have decided to establish an expert group, chaired by my Department with input from the Office of Public Works and the Irish Prison Service, to examine the potential sites on the basis of comprehensive and objective criteria and to report back to me. I propose to await the results of the considerations of this group before proceeding further.
This is a priority of mine and I am establishing the group with a view to speeding up the process rather than slowing it down. This project is long overdue and needs to be progressed energetically. The new prison campus holds open the prospect of a much enhanced prison infrastructure for Dublin city and of much better facilities for prisoners, along with better working conditions for prison officers and a much more civilised prison regime.
I look forward to early results from the expert group and to the selection of a site so that the process can begin. It will clearly not be a city centre site because that no longer makes economic sense. Recreational space is needed and the prison needs to be away from places where drugs might be thrown in over walls. It will be outside Dublin and must be accessible to motorway transport. That narrows the field to some extent. We are operating on the basis that the prison campus would need to be extended to between 80 and 100 acres to accommodate the range of institutions and service support facilities required for a modern facility of that kind.
I am not clear what is intended by the Minister. Could he clarify matters? He said he intended to make a decision by the end of March yet he is now setting up an expert group which presumably will have an open-ended timeframe in which to report. When is it likely to make its report? Does the Minister intend to demolish Mountjoy men's prison, Saint Patrick's juvenile institution, the training unit, the women's prison and Mountjoy Garda station? Will all that go in one fell swoop to deprive the entire area of the penal and Garda facilities? Is it intended to demolish the entire structure? There is a good deal of concern about this given that Mountjoy Prison is 150 years old. It has been home to patriots and poets and has many architectural, historical and heritage characteristics. All that must be taken into consideration.
Regarding greenfield sites, there are considerations for families travelling there. Mountjoy Prison is adjacent to the city centre, so there is a major consideration regarding the new prison in terms of public transport. There are not many areas of north Dublin easily accessible by public transport. The situation is not much better on the south side.
I detect a certain reluctance on the part of Deputy Costello to see this change take place. If I thought for a minute that it made sense to continue developing the city centre location as a prison site, I would have found that much more convenient, but it is not acceptable. It is not possible to provide a proper modern prison on the Mountjoy site with all the necessary medical and other facilities which a proper prison complex should have.
The Deputy asked if it is intended to have the training unit, St. Patrick's Institution, the women's prison and the Mountjoy Garda station included in the property disposal. It is the initial intention to dispose of all of these. The Deputy asked what would happen to the historic buildings there. I have seen one figurative redevelopment scheme which was prepared with a view to ascertaining the value of the site, in which a number of the landmark aspects of the prison were preserved as architectural features of a re-development which included water spaces and so on, along with an attractive apartment complex. The Deputy should look forward to that as an enhancement of his constituency rather than anything else.
Regarding the possibility of preserving the entire prison on the basis that it is 150 years old, we cannot preserve all our prisons as museums. Kilmainham Gaol is a magnificent facility in terms of a preserved prison, but we do not need to have two competing museum prisons in Dublin. Individual features of Mountjoy Prison might have an architectural or historic interest. One of those has been mentioned, namely, the gallows and the building in which it is housed. Some might think this macabre but others may think it of huge significance. We will address these issues later. Many Irish patriots gave their lives for this country in that place and it would be sad if it were simply demolished and cleared away as builders' rubble.
I take it that the Minister is not flying blind financially. Will he give us some idea of the guidelines he has on costings? Even on a ballpark basis, what value would be placed on the Mountjoy complex in terms of redevelopment? What sort of costings are involved for building the new structure? Size is clearly relevant. How many prison places has the Minister in mind? What sort of ballpark figure is involved? Will the Minister give some indication of the possible sites? He said he is restricted because of the need to have sufficient space for security and other reasons. Has he a list of possible locations for the new prison? How long will all this work take?
Regarding the timescale, I aim to make an early decision on this project. We have under consideration approximately 30 sites proffered by their current owners. Some of these appear to be suitable for our purpose. I do not propose to publish this list for the obvious reason that these people have tendered their land in confidence and have indicated prices.
While it is difficult to put an exact value on the complex of buildings at Mountjoy in the context of redevelopment, I imagine it is somewhere between €40 million and €80 million. The cost of acquiring the land for a new premises would be possibly between €7 million and €15 million in current use terms.
It depends on how many cell spaces are put into the prison and its exact configuration. While I am not in a position to give an exact number at this stage, it would be substantially larger accommodation.
There is also the question of the Dóchas women's centre, which is a high quality facility but grossly inadequate in terms of capacity for the needs for which it was established. I am sorry to say the goals of the facility were overly optimistic even relatively recently. It is important to emphasise that I have no intention of downgrading or producing a facility which is of lower quality than that in place at present. An equivalent women's institution of an equivalent architectural quality would cost a significant amount of money to build. We must generate a public private partnership model for this. A design, build and finance model, including maintenance for a period, is what we have in mind to ensure we get good quality. The facility would be one which would be affordable within the prisons capital and current programme, which is substantial at present.
These issues will be fleshed out in the near future. There are other questions such as ancillary medical supports.
When the capital punishment legislation was going through in 1990, the then Minister for Justice, Mr. Ray Burke, agreed with me that the hangman's cells would be transferred to the National Museum. Will the Minister consider this?
With regard to Question No. 43, has consideration been given to the building of the new criminal courts complex close to this huge new prison which the Minister plans? While he said there will be motorway access to the prison, will there be public transport access of the type required?
The execution shed at Mountjoy is a place where people sacrificed their lives for this country and where many brave people died for the creation of an independent Ireland. The Deputy has suggested one possible location for it. Another possibility would be to relocate it to Kilmainham.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question trenches on the next question, which I do not want to anticipate. It would be better to leave the issue until the next question.