Coalition backtracks on 'super prison' plan
THE Government significantly stepped back yesterday from what the opposition called a "poorly conceived plan" to build a super-prison.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern revealed that the proposed Thornton Hall prison in north Dublin would now only be built in stages, with an initial capacity for just 700 prisoners and not the planned 2,300.
More than €40m of public money has already been lavished on the site without a sod being turned.
Now, instead of building the new prison which would have helped reduce overcrowding in jails, the reduced aim is to provide 400 cells by 2014.
The decision was immediately attacked by Fine Gael and Labour which called the project a "shocking white elephant".
A decision has also been taken to scrap the public-private partnership plan to build the campus and replace it with a tender competition.
Mr Ahern claimed the tender bidding would be competitive and believed a satisfactory price could be reached on the first phase. He said tenders would go out early next year.
The Department of Justice has already spent €40m on the project, including the cost of buying the site and €2.6m on building an access road stretching 1.5km and an underpass.
The contract for the access road and underpass is being signed this week and work will get under way by September. A tender will be put out in September for the construction of a perimeter wall. Mr Ahern said he expected work to begin on the first two blocks in 2012 and the first phase to be completed by 2014.
The second and third phases will each provide another 500 cells, making a total of 1,400 cells, creating accommodation for 2,100 prisoners, when Thornton is completed.
The minister said the construction would create badly needed jobs.
Mr Ahern said 80pc of the prison population were currently serving sentences of 12 months or more. "They are not boy scouts or girl guides," he added.
He dismissed suggestions by Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte that the minister was throwing his "fine design and promises" for Thornton out of the window and reverting to traditional doubling-up in cells.