Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Other Questions

Prison Building Programme

4:00 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)
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Question 8: To ask the Minister for Justice and Law Reform the amount of tax payers money that has been spent on plans to build a prison in Thornton Hall; and a breakdown of same [35393/10]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The need to modernise the prison estate and replace Mountjoy Prison has been well documented by both the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The prison development at Thornton Hall remains a cornerstone of our prison modernisation programme.

The Government recently approved the procurement of the first phase of the prison accommodation blocks and related support facilities for the prison campus at Thornton Hall. The first phase will see the provision of 400 cells capable of accommodating up to 700 prisoners. This project has been identified in the Government's Infrastructure Investment Priorities 2010-2016 and funding is being made available from within the capital envelope for my Department.

The Deputy may also wish to know that a contract for the construction of the access road to serve the prison development was awarded to SIAC Construction in July, and construction work is already under way on this phase of the project. The access road and underpass are scheduled to be completed in February of next year.

A procurement competition for the installation of off-site services to serve the prison development issued to companies on the Irish Prison Service construction framework in August. The closing date was 6 October 2010 and evaluation of the tenders by the Irish Prison Service and its technical advisers has commenced. It is intended to award the contract in respect of the off-site works in November. The work will take approximately eight months to complete.

The procurement process for the design and construction of the perimeter security wall of the prison is already in progress. A pre-qualification competition from which suitably qualified contractors will be invited to tender for the design and construction of the perimeter wall of the prison and related works issued on the e-Tenders website in August 2010. The closing date for expressions of interest was 28 September 2010.

Twenty submissions were received and the evaluation of these submissions is already under way. A panel comprising five to seven contractors will be established from this procurement competition and these contractors will be invited to tender for the construction of the wall later this month. Construction of the perimeter security wall is scheduled to commence in the first quarter of 2011 and will take just under a year to complete. The procurement process for the design and construction of the first phase of prison accommodation blocks will begin early in 2011.

Thus far, a total of €24.46 million has been expended on the project to the end of September 2010. This sum includes the site cost of €29.9 million.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister might wish to give that figure again.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry. The total figure is not €24.46 million but €42.46 million.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The figures are rattling the Minister.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The site cost-----

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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How many hotels could we buy for that in the current market?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry; I must raise my voice because of the shouting.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I will do my best to protect the Minister too.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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A touch of dyslexia.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The cost of the site was almost completely offset by the sale of surplus prison lands at Shanganagh, County Dublin, for €29 million. An additional 8.7 acres has also been acquired at a cost of €1.3 million to provide a dedicated access route to the main prison site. This was done following representations from the local community.

The total expenditure to date also includes €7.3 million expended on professional fees, €2.9 million on site preparation and various surveys, €0.5 million on landscaping and €0.5 million on security. As is the case with all major infrastructure projects, a comprehensive set of geological, engineering and archaeological and environmental surveys have been undertaken at the site in order to advance the construction programme for the development.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is bizarre to see expenditure of €0.5 million on landscaping for a building site.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Tree planting is very important.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Obviously, when they are going to pull down the whole lot.

The Minister stated in his reply that the first phase of the project is going ahead. Does he not accept that delivery of what he terms the modernisation of the prison estate in this fashion will end up costing the State more in the long run, given the security concerns associated with returning to the site to build the rest of the project after the first phase has opened? Would he not agree that a fraction of the €42.46 million, if it had been invested in community restorative justice, probation and welfare services, links projects, detox beds, or even improvement of the existing prison estate, would have had a greater effect in terms of reducing the prison population?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am not sure whether Deputy Shatter was being sarcastic, but tree planting is very important to the local community. Substantial consultation took place before the project and one of the conditions specified by the community was that a considerable amount of tree planting would take place to offset the look of and potential noise from the prison.

With regard to the overall cost, many of the projects mentioned by the Deputy - I mentioned earlier the 100 youth diversion projects around the State, including drug treatment centres and so on - are already being funded, although there is always a need for more. Prisons face a difficulty in that they cannot put up a "No vacancies" sign but must accept everybody. People such as the Deputies criticise the conditions in Mountjoy and other prisons, and that is one of the reasons we are rapidly proceeding with the Thornton Hall project. We are planning for the long term.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister has closed four other prisons.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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In the meantime, as I have said many times in reply to parliamentary questions-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I ask the Minister to finish as I am trying to facilitate many Deputies in asking questions.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----we also have interim solutions.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Can the Minister assure the House that the construction of the watered-down project at Thornton Hall has survived the bilateral process-----

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Sorry?

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I am asking whether the watered-down project at Thornton Hall - the Minister will agree that the new arrangement of building 400 cells for 700 prisoners was not the original project - has survived the bilateral process. Have the moneys been provided and are they assured for this project?

Has any consideration been given in the Minister's Department to the abandonment of this project and given that a very much smaller capacity is being built could it have been done in the conventional way? For example, is it not the case that when this dreadful Government, which has brought us to the stage we are in, was throwing money around like drunken sailors it spent €24 million acquiring a site adjacent to Mountjoy? Did the Department give any consideration to developing that site as an alternative to this monstrosity at an unsuitable location in rural north Dublin? Is there still not time to reconsider his approach?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I do not accept that it is in an isolated rural area. It is in an area which is contiguous with Dublin and will be accessible. I am surprised that even Deputy Rabbitte accepts that having a major prison in the city centre of Dublin is a good idea in this day and age, particularly given the difficulties in keeping drugs out of that location.

This will be a purpose-built prison. Given that the economic circumstances changed since the original planning for Thornton Hall, rather than criticising it, the Deputy should accept it was necessary to reappraise its financing. While I have not finished my consideration of the Estimates for next year I am confident, given that this is a vital piece of infrastructure for the country, that there will be sufficient funds. The tendering process for the actual building of the prison will start in 2011. That we have proceeded with the access road, the underpass, the off-site services and the perimeter wall strongly suggests, given that we have got the consent of the Department of Finance, this is a vital infrastructure that needs to be put in place.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I presume the Minister would acknowledge this debacle is not all his fault, that this project is, as some of his colleagues refer to it, the McDowell legacy, in the sense that it was never properly thought out or adequately or reasonably costed. In the context of the reappraisal of the State's financial position and its capacity to spend money, is there a risk, if the wall is proceeded with, that it could become the most expensive wall in the history of the State and that the State ever built around a piece of farmland, with perhaps the best access road completed into the back yard? Will the Minister give an assurance there is no doubt that the 400-cell facility will be constructed?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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So far as I am concerned I can give a categorical assurance that the facility will be built. I do not accept that it is a debacle. This is a properly thought out project which is necessary for the prison population for the next 15 to 20 years. It is a vital piece of infrastructure, without which we will difficulty and adverse reports from the inspector of prisons.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I will take a brief final question.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister stand over the price paid for the land at the height of the property bubble? Some €29 million of taxpayers' money was paid for a piece of farmland.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Please allow-----

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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This project demonstrates the financial incapacity of the Minister and his colleagues in the previous Government.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Will Deputy Shatter please stop shouting? If the Minister did not join the shouters it would help. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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It is an outrage, that €29 million should be paid for a piece of farmland.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We got €59 million for Shanganagh Castle.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Without building the perimeter wall.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Is it accurate to summarise the Minister's reply by saying he does not have the money earmarked for this project as yet and that he is still in the Estimates process? Returning to the question I asked, the Minister will recall before the collapse of the PPP, when I asked if he was sure the developer, the preferred bidder, was able to deliver, he got up on his high horse and told me he would never speak to a developer, that would be a dreadful thing to do.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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He did not know anything about it and, of course, it collapsed shortly thereafter.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Did the-----

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Is there a danger that this will collapse? Is there a danger we will be left with a road into a field, around which a fin wall will have been built? What does the Minister propose to do with the Mountjoy Prison site which he acquired for €24 million, and which I presume is now worth €2 million or €3 million, and why could it not be developed? I do not agree with what the Minister said about the location of the prison. The people who have to visit relatives in prison do not need, in the absence of public transport, to go to a remote location in north County Dublin.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh for a brief supplementary question.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Given that this project will be built on a phased basis, what is the timeframe for the full delivery of the 400 cell prison at this stage?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The tender process for the building of the 400 prison cells will start in 2011. It will depend on how long that takes.

Deputy Rabbitte is trying to suggest that the building of the 400 cells will not proceed because the Estimates process is not complete. We are in negotiations with the Department on a bilateral basis. I can assure the House this project is a priority in respect of the capital envelope I will get for next year-----

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Will the Minister quit on it or would anything make him quit?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----for the building of the 400 cell spaces. Anyone who says that we are proceeding with the wall and the access road - that will remain the case - and that there will be nothing built behind it----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We are over time.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----has only to look at the example of a previous prison built in the State. The wall was built first and ultimately the prison followed. We will proceed with the 400 spaces immediately in 2011.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Will the Minister let me know the figures if he gets stuck?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am sure the Deputy will be present for the opening.