PRISON officials are to spend €200,000 on new gym equipment just three years after the last upgrade of facilities in the country's jails.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has already spent hundreds of thousands of euro on improve-ments -- and brand new gyms.
An IPS spokesman said a new contract offered value for money, even though all prisons have existing gyms fitted to a high standard.
But the spending was described as "lavish" last night by the opposition, especially at a time when the Government was preparing a Budget widely anticipated to slash spending and raise taxes.
Figures provided by the IPS show that over €310,000 has already been spent since 2007 on gym equipment.
But the Irish Independent has learned that prison service officials have signed a €200,000 contract to further upgrade gyms over the next three years, with an option for a fourth year.
The contract was awarded to Podium 4 Sport at the end of September and may be used to supply all 14 prisons. It marks a continuation of spending on prison gyms since 2007.
The biggest allocation came in 2009, with €154,101 going on gyms despite widespread cutbacks caused by the crisis in the public finances. The total was up from €23,690 for 2008 and €129,490 in 2007.
In 2009, Wheatfield Prison in Clondalkin was kitted out with a €43,000 gym and the high-security prison in Portlaoise -- which houses former gang boss John Gilligan, a known bodybuilder -- was given a new gym worth €37,272.
Mountjoy inmates were also given a new gym, worth €22,133, as were prisoners in Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon, at a cost of €20,728.
The kit outs in Mountjoy and Portlaoise came only two years after each jail was given €27,000 and €28,000 of gym equipment respectively. In total, Portlaoise received €69,241 since 2007, with Mountjoy up next on €49,005, followed by Wheatfield on €48,149.
The IPS said equipment had yet to be purchased and added that no allocation had been made to individual prisons.
"The IPS is satisfied the purchase of this equipment represents value for money," a spokesman said.
He said use of the gym allowed prisoners take control of one aspect of their lives, which could then give them confidence to tackle other areas like substance abuse.
But Brian Hayes, Fine Gael's spokesman on public spending, questioned why the contract was signed.
"I fully accept the prisoners need proper gym facilities," he said. "The question is why are they being kitted out again at this cost. I find it quite extraordinary the IPS signed off on this lavish expenditure item."