Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

6:00 pm

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann, noting:

that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, having considered the need for a new prison in the Dublin area, has decided to proceed with the development of a prison in the District Electoral Division of Kilsallaghan, in the County of Fingal;

that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has caused the documents specified in section 26(2) of the Prisons Act 2007 (No. 10 of 2007) relating to the development of a prison to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas together with a document containing the observations of that Minister on the environmental impact assessment and the report of the rapporteur;

that the proposed development relates to the construction of a prison:

(a) located in the District Electoral Division of Kilsallaghan in the County of Fingal;

(b) for the purpose of accommodating not more than 2,200 prisoners;

(c) which development will consist of buildings of a floor area of approximately 140,000 square metres within a site of approximately 57 hectares;

(d) the site of which development will be bounded by a perimeter wall approximately 7 metres in height constructed behind the existing landscaped perimeter screen planting; and

(e) which development will consist of buildings with a height of 2 storeys other than the control centre which will have a height of 3 storeys;

that the following alterations having been made by the Minister to the development in accordance with section 25 of the Prisons Act 2007 (No. 10 of 2007) in order to mitigate its visual and aural impact:

(i) the erection of a 3 metre high timber fence on the outer boundary of the car park areas on the west side of the site (marked B on the map placed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Oireachtas Library on 14 May 2008), the re-design and adjustment of the car park, the lowering of the level of the car park at the boundary by approximately 1.5 metres and the imposition of a height limit for lighting fixtures in such car parks so that all the lighting fixtures shall be less than 3 metres in height off the ground;

(ii) the widening of planting areas at the places marked A on the map placed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Oireachtas Library on the 14 May 2008 by not less than 4 metres, the planting, where appropriate, of larger, mature trees and the relocating of the wall further from the boundary by a similar distance not to exceed 10 metres to accommodate the widened planted area;

(iii) the use of concrete, which has been treated or conditioned in such a manner as to make it visually less obtrusive, on the exterior security walls on the West and North of the development; and

(iv) the development of a new access road;

that an environmental impact assessment was prepared with respect to the proposed development;

that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform invited submissions or observations relating to the development of the prison from members of the public:

(a) by means of advertisement placed:

(i) in the following national publications on the 29 February 2008:

The Irish Times;

The Irish Independent; and

The Irish Examiner;

(ii) in the following local publication:

the Fingal Independent for the week commencing 3 March 2008;

(b) by the erection of site notices at 5 locations on the perimeter of the site;

(c) by issuing a newsletter ('Thornton Hall Newsletter 2') on 3 March 2008 which was delivered by An Post to more than 1,000 houses in the locality;

(d) by causing an announcement of the proposed development to be published:

(i) on the website of the Irish Prison Service; and

(ii) on the website of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform;

that the main measures taken to avoid, reduce or offset any possible significant adverse effects of the development on the environment are:

(i) the use of a design based primarily on two storey buildings (except for the control centre), centrally based away from the perimeter with a cordon sanitaire and extensive tree screening minimising the visual and environmental impact including the impact on the local ground waters;

(ii) the retention, as far as possible, of the mature hedgerows and trees on the perimeter of the site and the creation of new habitat by tree planting;

(iii) the mitigation of potential impact from traffic by the development of a new access road diverting construction and operational traffic away from the road classified by the Minister for Transport as a regional road and assigned the number R130 in the Roads Act 1993 (Classification of Regional Roads) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 188 of 2006), the town of Coolquay in the County of Fingal and the Francis Taylor National School at Kilcoskan in the County of Fingal and the provision of a regular dedicated bus service, related to demand, linking the city of Dublin to the site of the proposed prison;

(iv) the mitigation of noise, dust and other emissions by prioritising the construction of the perimeter wall that will aid the mitigation of noise, dust and other emissions and the adoption of a Construction Environmental Management Plan;

(v) the management of the surface water system in a manner which controls the quality and quantity of the surface water in a manner likely to avoid any adverse effect on local water drainage systems (which management includes the use of underground attenuation storage);

(vi) the implementation of an environmental management programme to ensure the correct handling and storage of potentially contaminating materials and waste disposal;

(vii) the use of solar water heating, rainwater harvesting, biomass boilers, natural ventilation and measures to minimise carbon emissions and water demand;

(viii) the minimisation of night light impact by the use of adjustable perimeter security lighting;

(ix) the preservation of the Thornton Hall building which will not form part of the prison site; and

(x) the investigation of the site to identify, record, resolve or protect potential archaeological heritage in the area of the development;

that visual representations of the exterior of the completed development appear at the end of this resolution;

that the conditions relating to the construction of the new prison to be complied with by the principal building contractor or developer engaged by the Minister are:

(a) that the development shall not vary in any material way from that outlined in the environmental impact assessment and the visual representations of the exterior of the completed development as laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas;

(b) that the construction schedule shall:

(i) give priority to the construction of an access route from the road classified by the Minister for Transport as a regional road and assigned the number R135 in the Roads Act 1993 (Classification of Regional Roads) Order 2006 (S.I. No.188 of 2006) to the main site at Thornton Hall and that route will be used as the sole access route for all heavy construction traffic for the development; and

(ii) thereafter give priority to the construction of those sections of the perimeter wall that will minimise the impact of construction work within that perimeter on persons residing or working in the locality;

(c) that the road classified by the Minister for Transport as a regional road and assigned the number R130 in the Roads Act 1993 (Classification of Regional Roads) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 188 of 2006) shall not be used by heavy construction, delivery or removal vehicles other than:

(i) that portion of the road that must be crossed to gain access to the Thornton Hall part of the site from the new access route;

(ii) that portion of the road that must be accessed to construct the underpass from the new access route to the Thornton Hall part of the site; and

(iii) in emergencies where there is a threat to life or property and where the use of the new access route is not viable for that emergency;

(d) that the emergency exits at the north-west and south ends of the site shall not be used by service or delivery vehicles at any stage during construction or operation and shall only be used in the case of emergencies or emergency exercises;

(e) that construction shall not commence until a Construction Environmental Management Plan has been drawn up by the primary contractor, approved of by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and implemented in keeping with best practice and in particular the construction phase mitigation and other measures specified in sections 7.5, 8.7.1, 9.6.1, 10.5.1, 11.5.1, 12.6, 13.5 and 15.5 of the Environmental Impact Assessment shall be adhered to by the body or bodies contractually responsible for the construction of the development including any subcontractors;

resolves to approve the development of the said prison at Kilsallaghan in the County of Fingal.

To facilitate a more in-depth consideration of this matter, it is proposed to refer the resolution placed on the Order Paper under section 26(1) of the Prisons Act 2007, approving the development of a prison in the district electoral area of Kilsallaghan in the county of Fingal to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. Technically, the subject matter of this debate, therefore, is a referral motion, but it is agreed on all sides that we should focus on the proposed development itself.

The development proposed comprises eight separate and distinct institutions designed to hold a total of 1,400 prisoners on a single site of approximately 120 acres, enclosed within a single perimeter with centralised stores, work training, educational and library facilities and visitor facilities. All the buildings, except the control centre, will be two stories or less. The existing boundary hedgerows are being maintained. Inside that boundary there will be a planted area 10 to 20 m in depth, then a fence, a patrol road and then a wall approximately 7 m in height. Inside that wall is the cordon sanitaire which will be generally 40 m in depth before one reaches the internal fencing of the development. Car parking for visitors and staff is outside the perimeter wall. A dedicated public transport service to the development from the city will be provided for those visitors who wish to avail of it. The floor area is approximately 140,000 m2.

The development of the prison facility centred at Thornton Hall will be the single biggest step in improving standards for prisoners since the foundation of the State. Its main purpose is to replace existing sub-standard accommodation and allow greater capacity to avoid overcrowding. It will do away with the current practice of slopping out in the Mountjoy male prison. Instead of sharing a cell — conditions that have been criticised severely both by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment, CPT, and the former Inspector of Prisons — prisoners will be housed in individual cells meeting the requirements of the 21st century. The new development will mean that instead of the existing situation where, on frequent occasions, there are more prisoners than beds in both the Mountjoy male prison and the Dóchas centre, there will be sufficient capacity to deal with the number of men and women being committed to prison in the Dublin area by the courts.

The new prison will mean that it will be possible to assess individual prisoners as to their level of risk and to assign them to an institution with the appropriate level of security for that prisoner. Furthermore, it will be possible to keep feuding gangs separate from one another and their ring leaders isolated, reducing the potential for violence between prisoners. The introduction of a cordon sanitaire 40 m deep around the perimeter of the prison will make it impractical for anyone to try to throw drugs and other illicit materials over the wall into areas accessible by prisoners.

The new prison will have sufficient educational, workshop and other facilities so that all prisoners can be productively engaged. The entire design of the complex is regimes-led, with a focus on rehabilitation. Prisoners can progress from high-security, relatively strict regimes to step-down, apartment-style accommodation to prepare them for their re-entry into the community. Thornton Hall prison will mean that instead of housing more than 990 prisoners on a 20 acre site, and 585 of them in one institution, we will have eight self-contained institutions with a total capacity of 1,400 prisoners on a 120 acre site. The largest institution will hold 192 prisoners. The design is such as to gain the maximum rehabilitative benefit from having a collection of small institutions but to also maximise the operational benefits associated with larger prisons by having one perimeter wall, central stores and maintenance service.

By reducing existing pressure on prison capacity in the Dublin area Thornton Hall will give greater flexibility in developing other prisons. For example, it will allow younger male offenders to be located at Wheatfield which has the proper facilities for that age group. The detention of persons under 18 is no longer the responsibility of the Irish Prison Service and the intention is to house all offenders under 18 in Oberstown. I expect new facilities at Oberstown to be available before the closure of the Mountjoy complex but if for any reason they are not, contingency plans are in place to keep the young males in question in a separate facility at Thornton where they will have no interaction with adult prisoners, pending completion of the necessary works at Oberstown.

The Prisons Act 2007 sets out a special procedure that may be applied for the purpose of determining whether consent should be granted to larger prison developments. Prior to the Prisons Act 2007, the procedure for all prison developments was determined in accordance with Part 9 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001. Under those regulations, the Minister of the day was effectively the deciding authority for planning matters for prisons and until the enactment of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 there was no statutory provision for an environmental impact assessment for a prison development.

The purpose of the 2007 Act was to provide a more open and transparent mechanism for major prison developments under which an environmental impact assessment, EIA, meeting EC standards must be prepared and where the Houses of the Oireachtas make the decision whether to grant development consent. This is done in the form of a resolution, which we are discussing today, which must be then confirmed by an Act. The confirming legislation can only be presented to the House after the appropriate resolution has been passed.

The initial stages of the process have already been progressed. On 29 May 2007 the provisions of Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007 was applied to the proposed prison development in the district electoral division of Kilsallaghan. The main development is at the site of Thornton Hall in the townland of Thorntown although part of the development — mainly the access route — goes through adjoining townlands, all in the Kilsallaghan area. While the new development has not yet been given any official name, for the sake of convenience it is normally referred to as the development at Thornton Hall.

The Director General of the Irish Prison Service appointed Jacobs Engineering Ireland to carry out the environmental impact assessment; full copies of this are available in the Oireachtas Library. On 29 February 2008 public notice was given of the proposed prison development, copies of the EIA and visual representations of the proposed development were made available to the public and observations and submissions were invited. The Prisons Act 2007 provides for a six-week consultation period which ended at midnight of 11 April 2008. The rapporteur received 130 submissions and has produced his report which has been published. The purpose of the report of the rapporteur is to identify those who have made submissions, identify the main issues raised and to provide a summary of the submissions and observations received. There is no provision for the rapporteur to comment on the validity or otherwise of submissions made nor is there any provision for him to make any recommendations.

My predecessor and I have had regard to the environmental impact assessment and the report of the rapporteur in proposing the resolution now before the House. The EIA already had identified a significant number of measures to mitigate the impact of the development on the environment and further mitigation measures are now proposed in the context of the resolution to address concerns raised during the public consultation process.

To facilitate the Houses of the Oireachtas in their consideration of the matter, the Minister must lay before the Houses: a document stating the location, purpose and size of the development, its land use requirements and an estimate of any residues and emissions expected; an environmental impact assessment; visual representations of the exterior of the development; and the report of the rapporteur. In addition, the Minister may also lay a document containing his observations on any of the above documents.

While much of this information, in particular the EIA, has been available to Members of the House since the end of February, all the documentation mentioned was formally laid before both Houses on 14 May 2008. As well as the report of the rapporteur, an electronic copy of all the submissions received has also been made available in the Library for the convenience of any Member who wishes to examine the original submissions. I took the opportunity to lay a document setting out my observations pursuant to section 26(3) of the Prisons Act 2007 on the EIA and rapporteur's report. In particular that document addresses each detailed point raised in the report setting out my observations on it.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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When was that done?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It was done quite recently, within the last week or so.

Moving from the background documentation to the proposed resolution, which is to be considered by the joint committee, the resolution is the consent required for the prison development at Thornton Hall to proceed. It is, in layman's terms, the planning permission for the prison. It follows the format prescribed by section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007, including the requirement to list the main measures taken to avoid, reduce or offset any possible significant adverse effects of the development on the environment. It also details some small but, for some people concerned, potentially significant alterations to the original proposals that I have made in response to concerns expressed during the public consultation process and sets out the conditions that are to be complied with in the construction of the prison. Certain matters of concern raised are also being addressed by the Irish Prison Service in the good neighbour mission statement and operational implementation plan, and a draft has been prepared and will be finalised in consultation with local interests.

Before turning to the details of the issues being addressed, I repeat that while the resolution is the planning permission, it must still be confirmed by an Act of the Oireachtas before it takes effect. If the necessary resolution is passed, I will introduce a two section Bill to confirm that resolution and give it statutory effect.

Prisons by and large do not have significant adverse impact on the general environment. At one stage there was a view that a prison development fell completely outside that category of development that would require an environmental impact assessment. The Prisons Act 2007, however, takes a much more proactive approach and requires an EIA in the case of every prison development that falls within the scope of that Act.

Any large scale development, whether it be a prison or housing estate, will affect those living in the immediate proximity of the site and, therefore, some impact is likely. It is clear from the EIA that the overall environmental impact is not significant from a national or regional perspective, but it is also true that a number of individual residents, particularly those adjoining the main site, will be affected. Considerable efforts have been made to minimise and mitigate the impact of the development on them. For example, there is extensive use of tree screening and except for one building — the control centre — all the buildings are of two stories or less. The EIA goes into considerable detail on the mitigation measures proposed to minimise impact both during the construction and operational phase. Notwithstanding that, the public consultation process and the rapporteur's report identified very specific concerns and further measures are being taken to address those concerns.

The small numbers of people living in the immediate proximity of the prison are affected and further alterations are proposed in the resolution to mitigate the effect on them. In particular, the existing planting area which is 10 m in depth and runs around the outer boundary will be increased in key areas by extending it by another 4 m to 10 m in depth and planting a number of mature trees to greatly enhance the screening effect for those residencies adjoining the main site. Mature trees will provide immediate greater height and greenery to screen the perimeter wall. This will require the main security wall to be moved further back from the boundary in some areas. In addition, 3 m timber fencing will be installed around the car parks on the west side of the site, the parking level will be lowered and light fixtures will be kept below the height of the fence to ensure that the noise and light impact on adjoining residences is minimised. Visually conditioned concrete will also be used on the sections of the wall most visible to the public.

From the outset, the major concern of the local residents has related to the possible use of the R130, a secondary route, as the main access route to the new development. The relevant section of the R130 is a straight stretch of approximately 1.5 km in length. It passes by a local national school. While technically the R130 would support the traffic required for the development, concerns were expressed about the implications for the safety of children. Recognising that these concerns were strongly held and in an effort to minimise the impact of the development on the local community, additional lands were purchased to allow a dedicated access road to be provided running from the former N2 main road direct to the main facility. It had been intended to use the R130 in the very initial phase to allow this new access route to be completed as quickly as possible. Once the new access route had been constructed complete with an underpass, all traffic to the development would use it and there would be no need to avail of the R130. In the light of submissions received by the rapporteur, it is now proposed that the construction of this new access route should be prioritised and that no heavy construction vehicles will be allowed to use the R130 through Coolquay even during the construction of this new access route. This is in recognition of the fact that there were genuine concerns locally about heavy construction traffic passing a school even if it was only for a limited period. Some concerns were also expressed about certain emergency exits being used by service and delivery vehicles and this is being addressed in the draft resolution by ensuring that the emergency exits will never be used for deliveries or service vehicles.

The resolution includes a number of conditions. The first is a statement that the development to be constructed must be as described in the EIA and planning notice. As I have already mentioned, a major concern was the use of roads and the resolution imposes conditions requiring the new access route to be constructed first and makes it clear that heavy construction, delivery or removal vehicles must use the new access route and not the existing R130. The perimeter wall is in itself an important mitigating feature, reducing the effect of noise and dust on those living in the area. Therefore, while general construction work will begin, it is intended that the construction of the perimeter wall will be one of the first priorities. The resolution also requires that a construction environmental management plan must be drawn up by the primary contractor before construction work begins and it must address the mitigation measures already identified in the EIA.

While not directly relevant to the issue of development consent for the prison complex, I mention the question of a new Garda station for the area and the position regarding the Central Mental Hospital. A new Garda station is to be provided for the area. The Garda Commissioner has agreed that its construction will be given priority. The new Garda station will serve the local community and will be accessible to the public from the existing R130 road rather than through the prison site. As well as providing added local security, it will deal with any criminal offences committed within the prison complex. The construction of the Garda station is not covered by this development consent procedure and will be subject to the normal process set out in Part 9 of the 2001 regulations.

From the maps and drawing, Members will note that approximately 20 acres of the original Thornton Hall site have been excluded from the proposed prison development and have been reserved as a possible site for the construction of a new Central Mental Hospital. That project is a matter for the HSE and the Department of Health and Children. The resolution on the prison development has no effect one way or the other on the future of the Central Mental Hospital. I understand that no concrete plans have as yet been drawn up for a new Central Mental Hospital on this site and that any such proposal will be subject to the normal requirements to obtain planning permission from the local authority.

We are in a position today to take a major progressive step forward in improving the prison system. It will not only improve the life of prisoners and prison staff but will ensure we have adequate secure and safe accommodation for the future with a real, tangible hope for improved rehabilitation work with prisoners. Once development consent has been granted we will be in a position to finalise and sign the contract.

There has already been a tender competition for a public private partnership to design, finance, build and maintain the prison complex at Thornton Hall. A number of consortia were formed and a preferred bidder has been selected. Negotiations are at advanced stage and the aim is to finalise matters after the decision has been made about development consent. While I have no reason to believe negotiations will not be successfully concluded, I emphasise that I am determined to get the best value for money and if the preferred bidder does not meet the necessary requirements, then other options can be pursued.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

In the first paragraph after "in the County of Fingal" to insert the following:

"—that, to ensure the safety of prisoners and staff or the Irish Prison Service, there is an urgent need to improve the quality of certain prison accommodation in Ireland;

that, recognising the existence of a new women's prison, Dóchas, the need for women to be held in a completely separate facility from men and held within easy access of visiting families and children to ensure community and generational continuity and support, women shall not be held in the facility at Thornton Hall;

that the facility at Thornton Hall will never be used to house persons under 18 years of age;

that the facility at Thornton Hall will never be used to house persons seeking asylum or protection from persecution;

that no part of the facility at Thornton Hall shall constitute an 'approved centre' for involuntary admission of persons suffering from a disorder under the Mental Health Act 2001;

that the facility at Thornton Hall have visiting hours at weekends and in the evening of specified weekdays so as to allow maximum opportunity for visitation by families to persons detained at the facility at Thornton Hall;

that the facility at Thornton Hall shall be serviced by a frequent and low-cost public transport service at all visiting times which must service the transport hub of Busáras and Connolly Station;

that prison policy in Ireland be informed by a rehabilitative agenda which incorporates education, training, psychological assistance and drug detoxification as its core principles;

that every prisoner at the facility at Thornton Hall shall have an Integrated Sentence Management programme designed for him, with particular emphasis placed on reintegration into the community at the end of their sentence to include provision of short term accommodation;

that every prisoner at the facility at Thornton Hall have access to comprehensive education and vocational training, with particular emphasis on literacy development for any prisoner; and

that every prisoner at the facility at Thornton Hall who suffers from a drug addiction have access to a comprehensive drug detoxification programme.".

We are debating an important motion on the proposed new prison complex at Thornton Hall in north county Dublin, but the debate we should have at this stage is one about the future direction of our prisons system. We should ask ourselves a number of questions, not least of which is whether the current system is functioning effectively and whether it represents value for money for the taxpayer. Are Irish prisons successfully rehabilitating criminals or are inmates coming out with the same problems and attitudes they possessed when initially sentenced? The evidence, as derived from numerous reports, including those of the prison inspectorate, prison chaplains and the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture, CPT, is that our prison system is utterly dysfunctional.

The CPT's report into Irish prisons, published in October 2007, described a scenario where inter-prisoner violence was rife, fuelled by the widespread availability of illegal drugs and the existence of a gang culture. Three prisons were singled out as being particularly dangerous in this context, Limerick, Mountjoy and St. Patrick's Institution. The fact that the latter is a facility for young people makes this finding all the more shocking. Figures published last October indicated that more than 770 prisoners were under protective custody for their own safety in prisons nationwide, out of a total prison population of fewer than 3,500. In the meantime, in 2007 an average of one prisoner per month died while in custody as a result of drug overdoses, murder or natural causes.

Our prisons are seriously overcrowded. Why is this the case? Part of the answer is that the Government has failed to progress measures, such as the Fines Bill — recently on the Order Paper — which aims to prevent people from being routinely imprisoned for defaulting on fines. We have not yet had the opportunity to debate the Fines Bill, much less enact it.

In Ireland being imprisoned is no obstacle to continuing to run a drugs empire from within. It may be somewhat inconvenient, but mobile phones help gang members and leaders to carry on their business almost as normal. A number of mobile phones have been seized in prison searches, but the Government has yet to commit to the installation of mobile phone inhibitors across all our prisons. I would like the Minister to explain what is holding him back from taking this urgent and important step.

The drip feed of information into the public arena in respect of what prison searches have uncovered has confused the taxpayer somewhat. After all, it is the taxpayer that foots the bill for Irish prisons. A year ago, a prison search in my local prison in Portlaoise uncovered an array of objects that included 17 phones, drugs, syringes, home-made alcohol, plasma TV sets, DVD players and two budgies. With regard to the plasma TVs, a spokesman for the Irish Prison Service stated: "Electrical goods that were bought by the prisoners were allowed in [but] it was felt that type of concession shouldn't have been allowed to the extent that it was." These events conjure up the image of an incoherent prison policy where it is not clear what rights and privileges inmates should or should not be permitted to enjoy.

Far more serious than the availability of plasma TVs in our prisons is the widespread availability of drugs. In their most recent annual report the prison chaplains state: "The misuse of drugs continues to be a major problem in most of our prisons. Many people will in fact have been introduced to drugs initially while they were in prison." It is a shocking indictment on our prison system that people who enter the prison system without a drug problem can acquire one during the time they are in prison.

The chaplains further point to the fact that drug offences are the reason many are incarcerated in the first instance. In this context, the limited and ad hoc availability of drug treatment programmes within prisons is nothing short of a national disgrace. Currently, only nine prisoners at a time can avail of the special six-week addiction treatment programme in Mountjoy. Prisoners seeking drug-free landings to help combat their addictions are denied the facility due to chronic overcrowding. Mountjoy, with a capacity of 920 to 930, currently has between 980 and 990 prisoners.

The Minister had the gall to inform this House last month: "With regard to demand elimination and treatment for prisoners with drug problems, the policy and strategy provides for a comprehensive range of treatment options." The pathetic reality is that our prison drugs policy is and has been an abject failure. The Government is not just failing the prisoner, it is failing society. A prison system that takes a non-addict in off the streets and returns a drug addict to the same streets is, simply, shameful. One could argue that in our prison system the chickens have come home to roost.

The Government's failure to comprehensively tackle the importation of drugs into the State provides some of the inmates with career opportunities and entraps more of the inmates into a spiral of crime and addiction. We currently have one X-ray scanner to cover all of our ports and one patrol vessel to guard our entire coastline, with one more of each promised. I would like to know what type of cost-benefit analysis, if any, informed the decision not to provide a scanner for every port, given the impressive success rate of the lone scanner to date.

The consequences of the failure to invest adequately in our education system or to tackle educational disadvantage and truancy through comprehensive programmes are visible inside our prisons, where 50% of young offenders in St. Patrick's Institution are illiterate, rising to 65% for the adult prisoner population. These figures starkly illustrate the link between educational disadvantage and crime.

Does our prison system address these factors? Does it provide a comprehensive literacy, education and training programme for prisoners? The answer, unsurprisingly, is "no". Programmes are ad hoc and likely to be cut short or abolished at the whim of the appropriate Minister. Programmes such as the CONNET project disappear without a trace. Integrated sentence management is still available, but only to the few. The probation service is scandalously under-resourced, with provision likely to be further squeezed as our economy goes into decline. As the Minister opposite me said, "There is not a red cent in the coffers".

In his last report before his death, the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Mr. Justice Kinlen, stated that the Irish prison system was dysfunctional and lacking in educational, psychiatric and rehabilitation services. This is a damning indictment by a man who had spent several years closely examining prisons across the State.

This leads to the question of the net result of all this dysfunction. The answer is provided by the shocking rate of recidivism. The latest figures show that 50% of prisoners re-offend within four years of their release, while 27% find themselves back behind bars within a year. The duty of Government is to protect and uphold the common good. It is failing spectacularly to do so in respect of its approach to prisons. Criminals are taken off the streets for a short period of time, but this time is too short in many cases, particularly in respect of an Irish life sentence, which equates to 13 years. Offenders are released back into society without rehabilitation, leading to a staggeringly large proportion of them reoffending and being re-incarcerated within a short period. This is not an issue of public safety alone, although clearly public safety is the key issue.

In an era when the Government is happy to close hospital beds and take teachers away from schools, the taxpayers of Ireland are spending almost €100,000 per prisoner per annum to maintain a revolving door prison system. Is this value for money? Is it fair to the taxpayer? A defining feature of successive Fianna Fáil Governments is the willingness to spend other people's money without a second thought. Ministers frequently boast about spending "their money" as if the Exchequer was a personal account, rather than taxpayers' money to be used for the purposes of careful investment in crucial services.

This disregard for prudent spending is abundantly obvious in regard to the purchase of land at Thornton Hall. The Comptroller and Auditor General found that the site purchased at Thornton Hall was 50% bigger than the size of the site originally sought; the Department did not seek professional advice on the potential impact that advertising its interest in acquiring land would have on the price that it would likely have to pay; the OPW failed to adhere to the rules in regard to procurement of professional services; the Department failed to consider cost per acre in its evaluation process; and, the State twice ended up negotiating a sale with a single vendor with no effective degree of competition, thereby weakening hand of the State as a negotiator. Most damming of all, the State failed to secure value for money, paying way above the market value of agricultural land in the area at a cost of €200,000 per acre, leaving the taxpayer with a total bill of €40 million.

The Thornton Hall project has been characterised by ineptitude from its earliest days. The idea of a new, modern prison which could address the manifold shortcomings of existing prisons is a sound one, but, as usual, the Government has taken a good idea and sought to replace the positive aspects with a host of negatives.

The Minister plans to demolish Dóchas, the women's prison, considered one of the few modern and effective prisons in the State, notwithstanding the need for more space. Dóchas was built ten years ago at a cost of €30 million, but now the Minister proposes to demolish it and relocate to Thornton Hall. He proposes to accommodate young offenders at Thornton Hall, a breach of international law and human rights. He promises this will be a temporary measure, yet how can anybody trust this promise? He proposes to criminalise the mentally ill by moving the Central Mental Hospital to Thornton Hall. This is despite the likely brain-drain that such a move would precipitate given the reluctance of expert staff to relocate and the assessment by independent economists that it would be more effective to redevelop the Dundrum campus.

The Government proposes to detain asylum seekers at Thornton Hall in direct opposition to international best practice. If ever a Government was capable of turning a potential positive into a resounding negative it is this one.

Fine Gael believes it is not acceptable to turn Thornton Hall into a super-sized crime academy where prisoners are locked away with no effort made to persuade them away from a life of crime. Instead Thornton Hall must be part of a new approach to prisoners characterised by a focus on rehabilitating serious criminals. The new prison must not become somewhere where current dysfunctional trends are permitted to magnify. Fine Gael proposes every prisoner has access to vocational training, psychological assistance, drug detoxification programmes and education. They must also have a dedicated management programme to re-integrate them into the community.

Thornton Hall should focus on the most serious offenders — the murderers, gangland criminals, rapists and violent burglars. The last any reasonable person wants is for expensive prison spaces to be taken up by minor offenders or debt defaulters who should not be in prison at all. I am calling on the Minister to reject plans to place women, juvenile offenders, asylum seekers or those with mental health problems at Thornton Hall. They have no place in a facility designed for serious offenders.

Thornton Hall presents the Government with an opportunity to critically evaluate its prison policy. Years of turning a deaf ear to the reports of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, the prison chaplains and the Council of Europe has compounded failures. It is time the Government faced up to its mistakes and set about comprehensively addressing them. It is important the Government does not allow an opportunity pass to address a prison policy that has so long been characterised by failure. The Minister owes it to the people to deliver an effective and rehabilitative prison programme.

It has been some time since we have had a debate on prison policy in the House. I hope the Minister will take on board the sound proposals in amendment No. 1 to the motion. There will also be an opportunity at the justice committee to hear the Minister's proposals and the local community's concerns. The Minister will have an opportunity to deal with the various recommendations from domestic and international reports on our prison system.

Prison must be a place where serious offenders are detained and their liberty removed. It must provide an opportunity to treat, educate and rehabilitate in accordance with human rights concerns and international best practice.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Burton.

Photo of Johnny BradyJohnny Brady (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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This motion would be regarded in any functioning democracy as a hugely controversial one. It is not controversial because it facilitates the closure of the unsuitable, out-of-date prison environment at Mountjoy and the creation of more appropriate prison places elsewhere. That central proposition is not contested.

The motion is immensely controversial for several reasons. When passed by both Houses, it will authorise the construction of the largest, most expensive prison in the history of the State at a manifestly unsuitable location. The manner of purchase of this site was unorthodox, unwise and did not comply with established procedures. The cost of the site at Kilsallaghan at €200,000 per acre exceeded the variable cost of land in the area by a factor of between 2 and 5. The community at Kilsallaghan is not an appropriate location for a prison. The international trend is away from large scale prisons. There is little evidence of a more enlightened or imaginative penal policy informing the largest decision in prison provision since the foundation of the State.

There are two further reasons this motion the Dáil is being asked to endorse is controversial. First, the developer who is the preferred bidder under the public private partnership arrangement to deliver the new prison is the same developer who last week withdrew from a similar arrangement with Dublin City Council to build five different housing developments. Second, it is Government policy to relocate the Central Mental Hospital from Dundrum to Thornton Hall, although the wisdom of such a decision is vehemently contested by expert opinion.

The value for money issue is decided. The horse has bolted and the taxpayer has been taken for a king's ransom. Taking the most modest calculation — that of the Comptroller and Auditor General — it seems the State has paid twice the market value of the land. Put simply, it would appear that having failed to purchase their desired site, the Minister and his agents let it be known they were in the market for a site that might be purchased for up to €30 million. Not surprisingly, they were offered a farm precisely for that amount — 150 acres at Kilsallaghan — even though the instructions to the Office of Public Works were for 80 acres.

The fear now is that having acquired 150 acres, the Government must be seen to attempt to develop it. The prospect of moving the women's prison and the Central Mental Hospital to Thornton Hall, therefore, is held out as the medium-term plan. The Office of Public Works had advised that it would be best to proceed confidentially. Once it became known the State was the client the price it argued would inevitably go up. That advice was ignored. Although Departments must comply with EU procurement directives in acquiring professional services and consultants, that was not done here nor was there a formal contract. There was no competitive tendering for professional services. There was no consistency in the evaluation of the site. As the Comptroller and Auditor General summarised in his 2005 report:

There are a number of respects in which the marks awarded by the site selection committee appear to be inconsistent ... One site got a significantly lower mark than two others in respect of availability of site services, even though the consultants estimated that the cost of provision of water, sewerage and energy services would be higher at the other sites.

There may be compelling reasons the site was identified and purchased in this unorthodox manner but if there are they have not been put into the public domain. It is not difficult to imagine that the purchase of a site for a prison is not exactly a straightforward undertaking. However, one is left with the impression that, at the height of the boom, the sky was the limit, the taxpayer could afford to pay and a deal was sealed that for whatever reason bordered on the reckless.

There is a certain irony in the fact that the man who sat atop this squandering of taxpayers' money was the very man who devoted a large part of his political life to lecturing the rest of us on public spending. It has never been properly explained how he became mired in this decision, one of the most foolhardy purchases in the history of the State. How did he become suckered into it and what kind of Cabinet allowed itself to sanction it? It seems now that in order to put the redundant acres to some use, both the women's prison and, temporarily, places for youth detention, but most seriously of all, the Central Mental Hospital, will be transferred to Kilsallaghan. People concerned with the most successful innovations at Dóchas, the women's prison, believe that the proposed transfer is most unwise and profoundly mistaken in policy terms. People concerned with the Central Mental Hospital today published a well argued report entitled, Patients Not Prisoners, exposing why it is wholly undesirable to uproot such a hospital from its long established communal setting in Dundrum and juxtapose it with a prison in such an isolated setting. The decision to railroad through such a large scale traditional development for the incarceration of prisoners at such an unsuitable location raises the major question as to what extent, if at all, has this massive, new, expensive prison decision been informed by modern thinking in terms of penal policy.

In a recent paper by Paul O'Mahony, the author elaborates on his assertion that our prisons have played a key role in developing a flourishing drugs environment throughout the country. It is estimated that 75% of prisoners have an addiction to drugs or alcohol or both. Mountjoy prison, it can reasonably be said, is the largest drugs treatment centre in the country. However, it cannot reasonably be argued that it is equipped to deal with that challenge.

The annual report of the Irish Prison Service for 2005 shows that 40% of people sentenced to imprisonment received sentences of three months or less; eight out of every ten people sentenced were given terms of less than 12 months. Most prison sentences that year were for crime at the lower end of the scale of gravity and 85% were for non-violent offences. In short, for every ten prisoners serving a sentence for a headline crime such as murder, manslaughter and sexual offences, there are 12 in prison for property crimes without violence. Would it not be more appropriate for the Government and the prison authorities to focus on how the number of prison places might be reduced, and how to extend the use of alternative penalties as a more effective response to those who come before the courts? Should the Government not be focusing on how to wean as many prisoners as possible off the drugs habit rather than fulminating about a drugs-free prison environment that everyone knows is only hot air? Ought the Government not concentrate on how to keep young people out of a prison environment and estranged from the prison mentality? In so far as some provision for the detention of women prisoners is unavoidable, does the Government not agree that the necessary supports should be available to Dóchas to continue to develop along present lines, where it is, as distinct from being housed within the confines of a predominantly male prison? I invite the Minister to respond to what the rapporteur records in his report at paragraph 9.4:

The relocation of the Dóchas Centre is a backward step. The retention of it at its current location must be given further consideration. There appears no purposeful reason for the relocation of both this centre and the Training Unit other than to maximise the revenue realised from a sale of the full Mountjoy site.

This is the opinion of a man who has not committed himself too much in the report. If, as reported, it costs the taxpayer of the order of €100,000 per prisoner per annum , surely even in financial terms alone there is a strong argument to rethink our traditional approach. The latest figures suggest that the average number of prisoners held in Mountjoy is 860. We are being asked essentially to consider a planning proposal that could accommodate up to 2,200 prisoners. The proposed configuration of confinement arrangements at Thornton Hall in terms of penal reform gives rise to many questions. These questions cannot be teased out here but are more appropriate to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. The legislative workload on the select committee is disproportionately severe but the joint committee — which has a less onerous workload — ought to give audience to certain interested organisations and persons who have substantial points to make in the period before the Houses of the Oireachtas approve the proposal before us. I have a communication from a Member of the other House, Senator Joe O'Toole, suggesting that the joint committee would make arrangements to hear submissions from interested parties.

In conclusion, Mountjoy is unsuitable to continue as a prison. Although 1,000 new prison places have been provided in the past decade it is perhaps inevitable that the extent of violent crime in our society will make more places necessary. However, Kilsallaghan is a costly folly on the taxpayer and an unwelcome imposition on a community ill suited to cope with such a development.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I am extremely disappointed that the Green Party has failed to be present in the Chamber. I recall the public representative for Thornton, the current Minister for vegetables, making the most extreme promises to the various public meetings which were held by local residents and I recall Green Party candidates doing the same at that time. The Green Party manifesto declared that, " the Green Party will abolish plans to relocate Mountjoy to Thornton Hall and instead review options to refurbish and extend the present buildings". It is cowardly of the Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, not to be present in the Chamber to account for his complete U-turn and his ignoring of the obligations which he entered into, I assume with some honour, at the various public meetings in the run-up to the general election.

This proposal reflects the boom years of the Celtic tiger when the obsession of the previous Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was with property speculation and the facilitation of that golden circle that seemed in those days to continuously surround Fianna Fáil. I have no doubt that the current move to bring forward this proposal at this time is very much linked to the recent stories about the preferred financial bidder, the developer who has walked away from three to five regeneration PPPs in Dublin city, three of which, I understand, have been subject to some kind of contract and two are to be subject to a preferred bidder status, as in this case. The Minister has a question to answer as to whether the preferred bidder status stands in the context of this developer walking away from commitments of up to €1.5 billion in Dublin city. Is the Government seeking to shore up the status of this particular developer by bringing forward and assuring his status with regard to this development? The decision to locate the women's prison — one of the few bright lights in penal reform — on this site is a disgrace. It is an insult to the successive women Deputies on all sides of the House who fought for penal reform with respect to women in prison and got it during the years of the Rainbow coalition Government, manifested in the Dóchas women's prison at the Mountjoy site, Dóchas being the Irish word for "hope".

The proposal to bring the Central Mental Hospital out to Thornton is particularly wrong. People in this hospital are patients rather than prisoners, although in some cases they have done horrific things and probably will have to remain in custody for the rest of their lives. This is regressive policy implementation at its very worst.

We are now in changed financial circumstances. The economics of this prison development no longer stand up. The Minister previously talked about being concerned by red cents, but he now has an opportunity to reconsider this grandiose, overblown and overpriced proposal. It is not in the interests of the financial future of this country. Neither is it in the interests of the rehabilitation of those who have committed crimes and their eventual re-entry into society.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Carey.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Ceann Comhairle; Kerry South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed. The Deputy has five minutes.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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On a number of occasions, I had the opportunity to visit Mountjoy with community school students who were studying in transition year. The prison officers used to ask if we would like the rough or smooth version of the tour, but there was only a rough version. On that basis, therefore, I welcome the principle of new prison facilities for inmates. I agree with previous speakers who referred to the Dóchas women's facility. There was some hope there and whoever named it, did so appropriately. However, it would be a retrograde step to relocate that prison to Thornton Hall.

A new planning permission process has been used for the development of this facility. Local people will have an opportunity to make observations but unfortunately, as with other State developments, they tend to be just that — observations and nothing else. It is a token gesture for local people whose lives will certainly be changed when a quiet backwater will accommodate up to 2,200 inmates on that site, along with a Garda station and other developments. The synergy of that area will never be the same again. The Minister should take the observations of local residents on board. A development of that size should not proceed without their views being considered.

The cost of the site has been mentioned at €40 million for 150 plus acres. Speaking as a farmer, it is cracked; nobody in their right mind would ever consider paying that price for that amount of land.

As regards the PPP, the McNamara group has not been named but I am naming it now. It has attempted to withdraw from €900 million worth of PPP housing contracts with local authorities in Dublin city. I question how somebody is attempting to take the opportunity to withdraw from a housing PPP worth €900 million and then becomes the preferred bidder for Thornton Hall. I wonder if there is a penalty for that. Can he just walk away with impunity or take his risk with the courts? Perhaps the State will not pursue those PPP contracts. It is a crazy scenario whereby somebody can say: "There's a bit of a risk there guys. I'm not that interested, but I'll go with the Thornton Hall deal because the risk is much lower as the State will be paying me." The PPP deals are certainly a cash crop for developers who get paid every month for costings, professional fees, maintenance and their margin. When one consults the record of the McNamara group in recent years, one can see that it has won five of seven PPP housing deals. He has been hugely successful in other projects throughout the State in recent years. There is a perception that if McNamara is in for this — in particular where there is a low risk — he will get it. We need to scrutinise and analyse how one person can be hugely successful in those matters.

As regards any version of the Tallaght strategy for the prison service, Fine Gael is willing to accommodate the proposed prison services if our amendments are considered on Committee Stage. In such a case, we would be in favour of these new prison places. However, women and minors should not be relocated on this site under any circumstances.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Ceann Comhairle; Kerry South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time has expired. I call Deputy Carey who has five minutes.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I refer to the juvenile justice aspect of this motion. As part of the Mountjoy complex, St. Patrick's Institution, which deals with 16 to 21 year old offenders, is to close when Thornton Hall prison is completed. The Government has also decided to develop new children's detention facilities on a State-owned site at Oberstown, Lusk, County Dublin. The fact that we are at a relatively advanced stage in the development of Thornton Hall, with little or no progress in the development of facilities for 16 to 18 year olds, indicates to me that the Minister will have a significant problem on his hands by 2011. This is because the State will not have appropriate space to deal with that age group. This very real scenario will be in direct contravention not only of the Children Act 2001, which stipulates that all children who are detained must be kept in suitable detention centres, but also of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Government has no integrated plan to deal with the separation of juveniles from adults once St. Patrick's Institution is closed. In answer to a recent parliamentary question I tabled, the previous Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said "In the interim, 16 and 17 year old boys may continue to be detained in St. Patrick's Institution". He also referred to "those who will continue to be held there pending the new development at Lusk". This reply seems vague and displays a non-committal attitude to the issue of developing appropriate facilities for juveniles. The previous Minister also stated that "The development at Lusk, which is a children detention school model and not a prison, will require careful planning and consultation". The term "careful planning and consultation" would again indicate that the Government is way behind in developing the juvenile facility.

Furthermore, the previous Minister practically admitted that Thornton Hall will be used for juvenile offenders when he said: "Should it be required when the Mountjoy complex is closed, interim accommodation for 16 and 17 year old boys, segregated from adults, will be provided on the Thornton Hall campus, pending the provision of children detention school facilities. On completion of the detention school development project in Lusk, all children under 18 years of age being detained will only be accommodated in dedicated children facilities."

I note that in his earlier speech to the House, the new Minister confirmed that children will be accommodated in the Thornton Hall facility. This situation is totally unacceptable and is in breach of the Children Act 2001. The Government appears incapable of planning for the future of such juveniles. The Minister has an opportunity to develop appropriate juvenile facilities for this century, as part of an overall integrated detention school and prison package. However, he continues to run the risk of placing juveniles on the same campus as more mature prisoners, thereby failing to break the cycle that has continued for generations.

The Minister should give a clear indication of how he proposes to proceed with the development of facilities for juveniles. He should outline a specific timeframe for the Lusk project. He should also tell this house how he will fast-track the juvenile detention centre at Lusk so it can be delivered in parallel with the Thornton Hall project. There is a distinct possibility that the continued pursuit of the Thornton Hall prison without integrating the plan for a specific juvenile detention centre and its associated rehabilitative measures such as education, training and restorative justice will perpetuate the mistakes that have been made.

The Minister cannot think that merely creating a super prison will cure all ills. We have a stack of reports such as the 20 year old Whitaker report, the 1994 report on the management of offenders and the 2002 report on the reintegration of prisoners by the National Economic and Social Forum all pointing out the same things.

We in Fine Gael say it is time the Minister dealt with this problem and put the necessary measures in place to prevent the housing of juvenile offenders with adult prisoners in Thornton Hall.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I will speak about the judicial process by which individuals end up in places such as Mountjoy and, possibly, Thornton Hall. I will speak specifically about mandatory sentences for the possession and sale of certain amounts of drugs and the impact the most recent Criminal Justice Act 2007 has had and how it is viewed by the Judiciary. I have corresponded extensively with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Courts Service and have come to the conclusion that no one, either in the Oireachtas, the Department or in the Courts Service, is aware whether the Judiciary is abiding by the guidelines set down by the Oireachtas in this House in 2007. I do not believe the Courts Service is active in getting that information. Given the effect of the illegal drugs trade on society I would consider that reasonably important information that needs to be gathered and assessed by this House.

Considering the mandatory drug provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 are a rewrite of the impotent provisions included in the Criminal Justice Act 1999, it is time to determine whether the Judiciary is taking the views of the Legislature seriously enough. If the answer is that the Judiciary is not abiding by the new guidelines, it is time to consider the issue of its discretionary powers. In regard to the possession of large amounts of drugs and the sentences being handed down, the sentencing regime is not having a substantial impact on the overall levels of importation of drugs and on the general drug culture. This is after much hard talk from the benches opposite in 2006 and 2007.

In April 2008 I received a response from the Courts Service on this issue. It said that the number of people who received the mandatory ten-year minimum sentence for misuse of drugs under Part 5 of the 2007 Act is 22 but it added that part of the sentence was suspended in 12 of these cases due to exceptional and specific circumstances. I wrote again asking the Courts Service to specify the reasons a suspended sentence was handed down in those 12 cases. On one hand, it said the courts have full discretion. It was made clear that there is clear and detailed legislative language the Judiciary need to act within and take account of.

It appears to me that every one of these court cases needs to be analysed to determine whether the Judiciary is acting in accordance with the legislation and within the guidelines set down. If the Judiciary is not acting in accordance with the legislation it is time for the House to consider the Judiciary's discretionary powers in the matter of mandatory sentences for the possession of drugs.

We in this House have a serious role to play in the area of illegal drugs which revolves around sentencing. At the very least, we need to determine on an active and regular basis, whether the legislation that purports to act as the main deterrent to drug importation, trafficking, and the sale and supply of drugs is working. As it stands, the Government agency tasked with determining whether the legislation in question is being acted upon is not capable of answering the most basic questions regarding the implementation of such a pivotal Act and its provisions. This is an issue about which the House should be concerned.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Members for their comments. Any criticisms they made were in regard to the prior system which revolved around Mountjoy, a prison built in the 1850s where it is impossible to run a 21st century prison service that is fair to everyone, not just staff, but prisoners and families. It is impossible to run that type of service from Mountjoy prison.

The whole reason for the new prison is to try to relieve some of the pressure in the Dublin area. Part of that will address the issue of dealing with young male offenders who, hopefully, can be located in Wheatfield which has the proper facilities for that age group. In regard to the under 18 age group, it is expected the facilities at Oberstown will be available long before the new Thornton Hall prison will be put in place. It is impossible to run a prison service from a prison such as Mountjoy, which was built so long ago and has been added to, in the context of trying to rehabilitate prisoners, proper security and ensuring that items such as drugs are not thrown over walls and so on. That is one of the reasons for a brand new prison.

Dóchas is probably the most overcrowded centre in the country. A judgment had to be made. It makes no sense from an economic or practical point of view to continue with Dóchas and build a second prison to house the overflow of female prisoners.

I wish to clear up facts in regard to some comments made about the probation service. There has been massive investment in the probation service. During the past two years alone, there has been a 30% increase in staffing in the probation service.

The design of Thornton Hall will take full advantage of all the best lessons that have been learned from the Dóchas centre. It will have single occupancy domestic style accommodation based around courtyards. It will have three separate sections in order that, for example, women on remand can be kept separate from sentenced prisoners. Also at Thornton, women prisoners will be further away from male prisoners than at present in the Mountjoy complex——

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Where will their children be?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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——and can be completely segregated from male prisoners.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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How will they get out to Thornton Hall?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The prison building programme will deliver approximately 450 additional spaces by 2009. This will address the capacity until the planned facilities at Thornton and Kilworth become available. I could give details but, perhaps, I will do that on Committee Stage.

In regard to the PPP arrangement, some Members have likened it to the PPP arrangement for the regeneration of Dublin city centre and that involving Dublin City Council. It is a different type of PPP arrangement. McNamara and Company is just one element of the consortium selected as the preferred bidder. Nothing has been said to me that would suggest that consortium will not be in a position to go ahead once the development consent has been given.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Where are the other elements?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The procedure to select the site for the new provision has been an open and transparent process and the matter was fully examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Where are the other elements?

7:00 pm

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The technology to inhibit the use of mobile phones is currently nearing completion in the midlands prison. It will then be evaluated and rolled-out across the prison estate. Prison numbers in the State have increased. At one stage the numbers were artificially low because of the revolving door mechanism. This Government and previous Governments, of which I have been a member, have endeavoured to ensure we do not have a revolving door mechanism. What was happening was that prisoners were being released to make room for new committals. The number of prisoners has increased because of that and because of longer sentences, particularly life sentences. The sentences being served by life prisoners have been increased to fairly significant levels.

The capacity of Thornton Hall is based on the study carried out by the Irish Prison Service on projected prison numbers for the period 2005-13. We need this new development to proceed as quickly as possible if we are to avoid problems of overcrowding. Irrespective of Members' views, I know they do not want overcrowding in our prisons. I would welcome the support of all sides to allow us to proceed with the development in Thornton Hall.

Debate adjourned.