Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Other Questions.

Prisons Building Programme.

3:00 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Question 6: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 138 of 19 May 2005, when construction will begin on a new prison complex on Spike Island to replace the existing Cork Prison; his plans to have the bridge on Spike Island constructed before work on the prison begins; if planning permission is required to construct the new prison complex; if so, when it is intended to apply for such permission; the projected cost of constructing a new prison complex on Spike Island; the estimated cost of constructing a bridge to Spike Island; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21529/05]

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Officials from the Irish Prison Service, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works and professional advisers, are developing proposals for the construction of a new prison complex on Spike Island to replace the existing Cork Prison. The new facility will address the overcrowding and inadequate facilities associated with Cork Prison and will, in addition, offer significant improvements in the areas of work, training, education and medical services as well as providing predominantly single cell accommodation with in-cell sanitation facilities.

I am advised by the OPW that a number of technical issues require to be addressed prior to commencing detailed planning and construction of a bridge to Spike Island which will be required to facilitate both the construction of new prison development on the island and the subsequent efficient operation of the new prison facilities. As such, I am not at present in a position to indicate a start date for construction of the prison complex but the Minister would hope to be in a position to do so within the next few months. I understand that, as with other prison developments, the relevant statute is Part 9 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, SI 600 of 2001. I am not yet in a position to indicate a timescale for commencement of the planning process. The estimated cost of both projects will not be available until detailed designs are completed.

The Deputies will be interested to know that the Inspector of Prisons has referred specifically to the need to replace Mountjoy and Portlaoise Prisons in his second annual report and has similarly expressed the need to replace Cork Prison in his report on his visit to the institution.

Significant progress is being made in each case. Following conclusion of a recent tender competition, it is hoped that work will commence in the near future on the provision of new prisoner accommodation at Portlaoise Prison as the next phase of redevelopment works there.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response, although there was not much in it. Has the Minister of State ever visited Spike Island in his many welcome visits to east Cork? Has his boss, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, ever visited the island to view the facilities? Is the Minister of State, or the Minister, aware of the significant heritage of the island? There was a monastery there, I am told, in the eight century and Spike Island has been compared to Alcatraz, Port Author and Robben Island in its tourism potential and attraction. Is it planned to build the prison inside or outside the present complex? Has an examination been made of the possible visual impact of the prison on other parts of the harbour? How much ground will be taken up by the prison? Is it the Minister's intention to apply for planning permission for the bridge and the prison complex at the same time? Is it not premature to build a bridge to the island if planning for the prison is not forthcoming? How many prisoners will be housed in the proposed new prison on the island?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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It must be appreciated that there are approximately 100 acres on Spike Island.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I know that.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am familiar with Spike Island, but I cannot say whether the Minister has visited it.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Has the Minister of State?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I have not visited the island, but I have looked at it from both sides of Cork harbour.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State should visit it.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The famous bridge that was to connect the island to Haulbowline was not completed. The island is less than 100 acres in size and I understand that subject to the planning procedures, it may be possible to utilise between 20 and 30 acres for the development. I am not in a position to give the Deputy exact figures on how many the centre will hold when constructed. Under the current legislation the centre is a place of detention rather than a prison, although that may change with the closure of Cork prison.

With regard to the environmental issues raised, the Department will prepare an environmental impact statement. Due to the unique nature of this project and its location, it is proposed to publish that statement for public comment and views. Fort Mitchel is a protected structure, famous in our history as the place of incarceration of John Mitchel and its subsequent use as a treaty fort and military installation. That status will be taken into account in any planning application. The Minister has been advised that any other difficulties — Deputy Stanton referred to an ancient monastic site on the island — can be addressed by sensitive architectural treatment and design.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Are there any swans or snails there?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The director general of the Irish Prison Service travelled to Cork recently for discussions with the county manager about the development and I understand those talks were very positive and useful. The Minister appreciates the assistance of the local authorities on this project.

I understand the position with regard to the sequencing of the planning applications is that planning procedures may involve an environmental impact study and an application for a foreshore licence, as well as the Part 9 application. It is envisaged that this process will take approximately nine months to complete. I understand this will involve one application, but I cannot guarantee that because unforeseen difficulties may arise. The priority at this stage is to get the bridge constructed so that the connection point is available for future construction and eventual use at the installation.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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The Minister indicated previously that he plans to sign the contract for the bridge within the next 12 months. Is that still the intention? Will the whole project be brought to us as one, the prison and the bridge, rather than doing one and not the other?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The construction of the bridge, from commencement of detailed design through tendering and commissioning, will take between 18 months and two years to complete. This includes road links on the landing side. The substantive construction works on the island clearly cannot commence until that project is completed.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Has the entire project got Cabinet approval? Did the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform close down Fort Mitchel as part of an ongoing industrial relations dispute with the Prison Officers Association, despite it being one of the more successful prisons in the system? Were most of the prisoners transferred to Cork prison, thereby doubling the numbers there and making it the most overcrowded prison in the country? Were prison officers and families scattered to the four winds when Fort Mitchel closed and are there plans to allow those families to return to their homes?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am not in a position to deal with the bulk of Deputy Costello's questions because they do not arise from the reply I gave which relates to the development of a complex on Spike Island rather than the current arrangements with regard to the Prison Service. The Minister is a member of Government and makes his decisions with its authority.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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One would wonder sometimes about that.