THE Irish Prison Service is buying three new tractors at a cost of up to €125,000 to teach prisoners about farming.
It intends to use the tractors at its two low-security prisons, Shelton Abbey in Wicklow and Loughan House in Cavan, which have 125 acres of farmland between them.
The tractors will be 60, 80 and 90 horsepower and one will come with a mower and a front-loader.
But Justice Minister Dermot Ahern was forced to defend the planned tractor purchase after the opposition questioned whether it was the best use of public money at a time of reduced public spending.
"I am advised by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that the proposal to purchase the tractors in question has been carefully evaluated to ensure that the proposed expenditure is justified on both financial and operational grounds," Mr Ahern said.