Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 June 2006

Adjournment Debate.

Prison Building Programme.

8:00 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me permission to raise this very important matter on the Adjournment on behalf of the people of Cobh and I thank the Minister of State for coming here to reply. He and I held a debate on the issue during Question Time on 23 June 2005.

We all agree that new prison is badly needed to replace Cork Prison. We know about the overcrowding, inadequate facilities and the need to improve areas of work, training, education and medical services, as well as the need to provide predominantly single-cell accommodation with in-cell sanitation. A decision was made to locate this new prison complex on Spike Island without any public debate or consultation. It appears that public consultation will take place after the decision has been made. Perhaps we should appoint a commissar to run the country and forget about debate and consultation.

Other sites could have been considered, such as the old Irish Steel plant at Haulbowline, which encompasses 50 acres. Haulbowline already possesses a bridge and a security presence and is owned by the State. The site even contains room for the Naval Service to expand its base. The town of Cobh would benefit greatly if Spike Island was developed as a heritage centre. Last night in the other House, my colleague, Senator Paul Bradford, outlined the historical richness of Spike Island. Tonight I will extol the economic potential that could be lost to Cobh if Spike Island is developed as planned.

The bridge would mean that it would be cut off from Cobh and would only be accessed from the western side of the harbour and any economic benefit would be lost to Cobh. Cobh could do with the economic assistance that would be afforded by Spike Island. Other areas around the world that possess nothing like the history or heritage of Spike Island, such as Robben Island, Alcatraz and Port Arthur, are extremely popular tourist attractions. Many responsible and respectable people in Cobh who are very concerned about this development and have not been consulted will call on the Minister to re-examine the matter, visit the area and consult with and listen to them before he goes any further.

An alternative site for this prison exists. The people objecting to the siting of the prison on Spike Island are not taking the NIMBY approach. A site exists in the harbour with a bridge and a security presence. If a super prison is developed on Spike Island, the danger is that it will be lost forever. As Senator Bradford pointed out last night, there was a monastic settlement on Spike Island in the 6th century. During the previous debate on this matter, the Minister of State told me he had never visited the island. Perhaps he has visited it since.

The island contains an amazing star-shaped fort which, if developed and opened to the public, would be a wonderful tourist attraction that could be on a par with Alcatraz or Robben Island. I have visited the fort many times. The building is remarkable and there is a range of areas to explore.

John Mitchell and Thomas Francis Meagher spent some time there, as did convicts before they were shipped to Australia. During the War of Independence, there were a number of amazing escapes from the island. It is rich in heritage and history and it would be a shame to lose it. I call on the Government to reconsider the matter, as there is an alternative site. The people in the area want to help, but they do not want this island ruined and lost forever.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

As mentioned in Seanad Éireann yesterday, the need for a new prison to alleviate the current overcrowding at Cork Prison has been well documented, which the Deputy acknowledged in raising the matter. Recently, the Inspector of Prisons in his inspection report on Cork Prison condemned the facility and acknowledged that space at the institution is at a premium.

Having considered various options, the Minister is satisfied that the only feasible option for the replacement of the existing Cork Prison is the construction of a modern prison complex on Spike Island. Officials from the Irish Prison Service, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works and professional advisers, are developing proposals for the construction of this new complex. The 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.

The new prison complex on Spike Island will allow the Irish Prison Service to strengthen measures to ensure drugs are not smuggled to prisoners. For example, the new complex will locate exercise yards where drugs cannot be propelled into them and new visiting facilities will eliminate the potential for passing drugs to prisoners on visits. In addition to eliminating supply routes, the new complex will provide modern medical and other facilities to allow the prison service to meet its commitment in its recently published drugs policy and strategy to deliver a broad range of high quality interventions to support drug abusers in attempting to conquer their addictions. Modern facilities support the staff delivering these interventions by providing them with the best tools and environment in which to carry out their work.

The commissioning of the bridge will facilitate the development of new prison facilities on the island to replace the existing outdated accommodation at Cork Prison. The OPW has been instructed to prepare the relevant planning procedures, including an assessment of the environmental and related issues arising to enable the construction of a bridge to the island. The Minister has been advised by the OPW that this planning process will commence by this summer. As soon as the planning requirements are complete, it is intended to commence construction of the bridge, which will take approximately 18 months to complete.

The contract for the bridge and the prison facilities will be placed following public tender and the Minister has instructed the OPW to prepare the design and other works required prior to the issue of the tender for the construction of the bridge. Deputy Stanton is amused, but I seem to recall in my constituency——

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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This is the same response given in the Seanad. The question is not being answered.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The late Deputy, Mr. Jim Mitchell, opposed the construction of a prison that he subsequently opened as the Minister for Justice.

Outline plans for the island prison facilities are being developed at present and these will be finalised later this year. The Minister is not at this stage in a position to give an estimate of the amount of land required for the prison development or the costs of the project, as this will be the subject of a public competition.

The Minister does not propose to change his plans for a new prison development including a bridge at Spike Island. He does, however, note the concerns raised regarding the history and heritage aspects which arise in the context of this development. He wishes to reassure the Deputy that the implications, if any, on the heritage, archaeology or related aspects of the proposed developments will be addressed in detail in the course of the planning process, which will be undertaken in due course. At that stage, all the relevant material including properly balanced assessments of the various issues, including archaeology, will be made available as part of the public consultation process which it is hoped should commence later this year.