Sunday 22 September 2019

Top garda units could be set for Thornton Hall switch

General view of Harcourt Street
General view of Harcourt Street

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Key garda units could be moved to Thornton Hall, under proposals being examined for the future of the stalled prison site.

The force will have to vacate its offices at Harcourt Square in Dublin, which is the headquarters of several crucial garda units, by the end of next year.

The building is currently home to the Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the garda mapping section, and the administrative arms of the water, air support and horse units.

However, some or all of these units could end up moving to the Thornton Hall site in north county Dublin.

Noel Waters, the acting secretary general of the Department of Justice, said Thornton Hall was one of six sites being looked by the Office of Public Works.

“Clearly there are issues in terms of its distance from the city. These are being looked at,” he told the Dail Public Accounts Committee.

Thornton Hall was originally set to become the site of a 1,400-place super prison.

However, the project was abandoned following the financial crash.

Mr Waters said another option being considered by the OPW was for the site to be used by IDA Ireland.

He said the IDA believed the site offered “very significant potential” for foreign direct investment as it was fully serviced and close to motorway routes.

The acting secretary general also said it was also a possibility that a prison would be built there, but not in the near future.

The need for Thornton Hall has diminished in recent years due to improvements in conditions at Mountjoy jail and a drop in prisoner numbers.

Mr Waters said there were “significant lessons” to be learnt from the debacle, but rejected suggestions the failure of the plan was down to any failings by Government officials.

“It is as a direct consequence of the collapse in the economy, simply and straightforwardly. No more than that,” he said.

“There was no degree of incompetence by the department or by the Prison Service.”

A consortium picked to build the prison was unable to borrow money from the markets at reasonable rates, he said.

“Had they been able to do that, I have no doubt in my mind that Thornton would be up and built and probably at the point of functioning at this stage,” he said.

A recent report by the Comptroller & Auditor General found the site was now worth less than a twelfth of the €29.9m the Government paid for it in 2005.

C&AG Seamus McCarthy also criticised what he described as an “inadequate analysis” of the likely costs of developing a new prison there.

He found the costs were significantly understated at €150m in 2004. Just two years later this was revised upward to €525m.

Mr McCarthy also found the cost of addressing the overcrowding and facilities problems at the Mountjoy complex, one of the main drivers for Thornton Hall in the first place, were overstated.

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