Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Prison Building Programme.
In May of this year negotiations with the preferred bidder for the construction of a prison complex at Thornton Hall were broken off as its final offer, which was significantly higher than the original price tendered, was determined to be unaffordable. The original tender competition, which was initiated by the issue of formal invitations to tender in late 2007, was then abandoned as it did not offer the opportunity to obtain the best value for money for the taxpayer in the light of the changed circumstances.
In June of this year the Government reaffirmed its commitment to developing a new prison campus at Thornton Hall and approved the launching of a new tendering process for the construction of a more affordable and better value prison campus at Thornton. The aim is to provide good quality, regime focused accommodation with appropriate support and rehabilitation facilities to prepare prisoners for reintegration back into society. The new facility will provide accommodation for 1,400 prisoners with operational flexibility to accommodate up to 2,200 prisoners in a range of security settings.
The development will now proceed on a phased basis with phase one comprising essential basic preliminary works required for the development including the construction of the access route and perimeter wall. It is intended that this work will proceed in the short term on the basis of separate contracts. The tender documentation and scope of works are currently being drafted. It is anticipated that work on phase one will commence towards the end of this year or early next year.
While phase one work is in progress the procurement process for the buildings and other facilities that will make up the new prison campus will be examined and finalised in accordance with the Department of Finance guidelines for capital projects. The objective is to complete the design and procurement process for the main prison complex while the construction of the phase one work is under way. While the original design has been prepared, work is ongoing on more detailed design plans which are required for the tendering process. The two phase approach means that once a contract is signed for phase two - the main prison development - the fact that the preliminary works envisaged by phase one will have already have been completed will allow for construction to commence immediately on the main prison buildings within a secured perimeter.
The development of the new prison campus at Thornton is a complex project which is governed by Department of Finance and EU procurement guidelines. The guidelines set out a range of actions that must take place prior to inviting tenders for the project. The Irish Prison Service is being assisted in this work by the National Development Finance Agency. It is intended to invite tenders for the construction of the phase 2 - the main prison development - next year. I expect the new prison to be operational within three years of the signing of a contract for phase 2.
I have two brief questions because we referred to this issue earlier in the course of Priority Questions. In regard to the phased development, will the Minister indicate clearly the timeframe for the coming on stream of the places or the cells? We know about the access route, the acquisition of land and the roads but we need to know about the newly arrived at format for the provision of beds and what the Minister's definitive plan is in that regard?
I understand maintenance charges for the vacant building site that is Thornton Hall - the greenfield site - are in excess of €120,000 per annum. On what basis are maintenance and security charges being expended when there is nothing on site to be secured?
I will answer the last question. The Deputy will understand the State must protect its property. This is a very significant piece of property so there are ongoing security issues in regard to it given that it will be a sensitive site when it is built on.
In regard to the timelines, as I said, it will be two to three years after the signing of the phase two contract. We hope phase one will start towards the end of this year or early next year. If one looks at that timeline, one is talking about 2013.
Perhaps 2014. While I accept we will produce 450 new spaces before the end of 2009, I have asked my officials to consider the building of a new block in the Midlands Prison complex, where there is plenty of scope for building, as an interim measure. Given the prognosis for prison population growth, I accept there will be a need at the end of this year for another block despite the implementation of 450 spaces.
Will the Minister clarify his statement about maintenance and security fees? Generally, it is not necessary to protect farmland in Ireland. Why is it necessary to protect this farm and spend in excess of €100,000 doing so? Perhaps there is an explanation; I do not know.
I wish to ask the Minister about answers he gave to the House previously which allowed the inference to be drawn that this prison will cost hundreds of millions. The collapse of the deal with Bernard McNamara offers the opportunity to rethink the whole thing. The Minister will shortly be able to get an inner city site from the National Asset Management Agency for a fraction of the folly that was committed at Kilsallaghan, if the Government is successful in enacting the legislation. The Kilsallaghan site is entirely unsuitable.
Is there not a strong argument from people involved in penal reform and penal policy that building a gargantuan prison such as this is the wrong thing to do? If the Minister adds to the Midlands Prison and if he has the prospect of acquiring a site for a fraction of Kilsallaghan in the inner city, which would be much more convenient for people, he should rethink the entire project because one would have to take with a grain of salt his statement that phase two will start next year. Having already spent €40 million on the project, why should we spend more taxpayers' money for a site on a farm in north Dublin which is not suitable for this purpose and may never be realised in the Minister's, or my, political lifetime?
I do not accept Deputy Rabbitte's premise that it is an unacceptable site. It is a very central site, close to Dublin city and provision will be made for bus access, etc. I do not agree with the Deputy's premise that we should build another prison in the inner city. I am surprised a Deputy who represents an urban area would make such a suggestion. It is only right and proper that a prison is located in an open area in which there would not be a possibility of drugs being thrown over its walls, etc. Unfortunately, no matter what we do in Mountjoy-----
It is international practice to build prisons on cities' peripheries with access for prisoners' families to visit them. All of the advice is that the Thornton Hall site is very suitable.
How much of the ongoing site maintenance costs are for the pruning of the shrubs and trees planted on a substantial acreage of the site? Is it still planned to go ahead with accommodation on the site for deportees and those who have committed immigration law offences? How many of these are currently in the prison system?
Will the Minister make a clear statement to the House on the relocation of St. Patrick's Institution? There were reports it would be relocated at the Thornton Hall site on an interim basis. There is also a proposal for the development of a new facility at Lusk, County Dublin.
A year ago the House convened specially to deal with specific legislation on the matter of Thornton Hall. Can I take it now that the Minister has abandoned the original plans and that the House will have to revisit the legislation? Will new legislation be required for the delayed project?
The project at Oberstown is currently at design stage. The expected tendering process for construction should take place in 2010. Construction is expected to be undertaken in phases with the first phase scheduled to be completed by 2012.
If the new proposals for Thornton Hall are more or less along the lines of the existing plans, we believe new legislation would not be required. There may, however, be a requirement to come back to the House to pass legislation on the re-design. We have a lesser design which takes out some of the ancillary facilities.
It is not envisaged that people awaiting deportation will be housed in Thornton Hall. However, I cannot be definite on what facilities will be on site.