Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Prison Building Programme.
Question 46: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in regard to the proposed Thornton Hall Prison plan; the latest estimate available to his Department of the expected cost, including the cost of the site, the provision of infrastructure and ancillary services and the cost of construction and fitting out of the prison; the implications for the overall timing of the prison project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27374/07]
Negotiations are under way with a preferred bidder, who was selected following an EU tender procedure, for the design, construction, finance and maintenance of the proposed prison facilities at Thornton Hall, north County Dublin. The project aims to replace the prison facilities currently located at the Mountjoy complex which, as is widely acknowledged, is in urgent need of replacement with a modern and operationally cost-effective prison facility that will provide a range of services and living conditions for offenders comparable with international best practice.
The new prison complex is being procured under a public private partnership model which will include the construction of the prison facilities with the ancillary infrastructure, including services etc. The relevant development consent procedure for the project is set out in Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007. The Act provides for an environmental impact assessment and public consultation in respect of the proposed development. These procedures will afford all interested parties an opportunity to make their views known and have them considered prior to a decision on the development. Subject to satisfactory completion of the statutory phase and the successful conclusion of the contract negotiations it is expected that construction work will commence next spring.
It is not possible, for commercial and public procurement reasons, to provide details of the overall likely costs of the project. Indeed, the disclosure of such information is, in any event, specifically precluded under Department of Finance guidelines on public private partnership projects.
I can confirm that a total of €36,444,050 has been spent to date on the project. The cost of the site acquisition was €29,900,000. An additional 8.7 acres has been acquired to provide a dedicated access route to the main site. This was done following representations from the local community which reflected concern in relation to the effect of increased traffic generated by the prison project. The cost of this additional land was €1,305,000.
A total of €5,239,050 has been expended to date on preliminary site works, including surveys, landscaping, security and maintenance of the property, archaeological and topographical studies etc., and professional fees, including legal and specialist technical advice.
The Minister has drawn heavily on the word processor from the last day. This site, as we know, cost €30 million when the commercial valuation, locally, was in the order of €6 million. Does the Minister intend to put steps in place to surcharge his predecessor, or some of the senior civil servants who facilitated this folly by his predecessor? Do I take it from what he has just said that he intends to proceed with it? Can he give an explanation to the House for the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Trevor Sargent, is now in support of it?
Thanks to the word processor, I have the terms of the Minister's answer from 9 October. Matters have not changed much.
The Ceann Comhairle is absolutely right. Will the Minister explain something to me, because I was trying to figure it out the last day? He said: "In addition to allaying these concerns the new roadway will provide significant additional benefits both during the construction and operational phases of the project." What does that mean?
The roadway will provide a dedicated access route to this particular prison complex from the old Ashbourne-Finglas road. That is the former main road that existed before the recent complex got under way.
There was access through the existing network of country roads which led to the complex, but the position was that extensive works would have been required on these roads that would have been more expensive than the option of a dedicated access road. The acquisition of the access road has been in ease of the project.
As regards the valuation which Deputy Rabbitte puts on the land——
That is all very much part of a dispute which has been discussed in this House before. The reality I am faced with as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is that the acquisition of this site was completed——
The site has been acquired and I certainly do not intend to throw away millions of euro in taxpayers' money which has been invested in what is a very fine site. It is a site which will provide a fine location for the establishment of this complex.
Some 8.7 extra acres have been purchased for little more than €1 million, in the region of €130,000 or €140,000 per acre. How many acres does the original site comprise? When one compares the figures for adjoining lands at €130,000 or €140,000 per acre to the original purchase price, something does not add up. One figure that jumps out is €5.25 million for professional fees, which seems outlandish, without a brick having been laid on the site.
As regards professional fees, I am sure the Accounting Officer can be questioned about these matters at the Committee of Public Accounts, as he was as regards the site acquisition, in respect of which he gave an extremely good account of the management of this issue by the Department. As regards consultants' fees and various other fees expended to date, this is a major project. It is the most substantial prison building project since the foundation of the State. It is a major development and we certainly need to get it right in terms of the construction and design of the complex, ensuring that best international practice applies. All these matters must be taken into account in developing a project of this type.
The cost of the road being put in to service this complex was never taken into account when the Minister's predecessor, former Deputy Michael McDowell, kept saying he had got value for money, despite the skulduggery involved in the purchase of the site and the fact that it rode roughshod over the local community. Has the local community been kept informed about the lie of this land and the acres bought to service the site and what additional services or facilities will be built there other than the prison, the court and possibly the central remedial facility which was——
I have the honour of representing this local community in Dáil Éireann and it gave me very substantial support notwithstanding the fact that I was the only candidate in the constituency who refused to oppose the project. On the question raised by the Deputy about what other projects will be located here, there will be a Garda station, as there is at every prison complex.
There will be a Garda station at this prison complex as there was at Mountjoy. The question of a forensic science laboratory and the Garda Technical Bureau being located at a secure location of this type has also been considered. It is considered that the location in question would be suitable for such a facility. The present phase of the development relates exclusively to the development of the prison complex, which project is under way. The Deputy will have to table a question to the Minister for Health and Children about the development of the Central Mental Hospital.
On the figures and the question of the access road, it was my view and that of the Department that the dedicated access road represented a preferable arrangement at the site.
It is a one-liner. On the question of the proposed transfer of the Garda Technical Bureau and the forensic science laboratory, the Minister stated the site was considered suitable. Does this mean the offices will be moving?
Given the time available, I would prefer if the Deputy tabled a separate question. The question of redeveloping the forensic science laboratory on the site of the Garda depot in the Phoenix Park was examined. However, because of the presence of the underground railway tunnel beneath the park and the depot, the site was found to be unsuitable. The opportunity was taken by the Government to agree the acquisition of the necessary lands at Thornton Hall as part of the access road arrangement that would facilitate the development of the forensic science laboratory.
Last year, when I asked specifically whether trains on the route would be endangered, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, denied the underground railway was next to the facility.