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€30m prison site goes to seed as vegetable plot

IT cost €30m to buy, but a Dublin site earmarked for a new prison is to be used to grow plants and vegetables.

The land at Thornton Hall in north Co Dublin had been bought at taxpayers' expense with the aim of opening a massive jail.

But the Irish Prison Service has revealed part of the site will now be used for horticultural purposes, given that the original plan has been shelved.

The State purchase of the 150 acres nearly a decade ago caused controversy.

Then Justice Minister Michael McDowell approved the acquisition by the IPS, which intended building a 1,400-cell facility on the land at Killsallaghan on the Dublin/Meath border.


While no work in connection with a new jail ever took place, local residents have noticed increased activity on the greenfield site in recent weeks.

It prompted Fianna Fail Councillor David McGuinness to ask Fingal County Council to "detail any work being conducted" on the lands at Thornton Hall. He said residents had been raising queries about "regular movement on the site".

The council furnished Mr McGuinness with a response from the IPS stating: "The members will be aware that the construction of new prison facilities at Thornton Hall has been deferred by the Government due to economic constraints.

"There are some general maintenance works being undertaken of the property and grounds.

"A Community Return team, under the supervision of Prison Service and Probation Service staff, has been operational at the site since August 2013.


"The work being undertaken relates to the development of a horticultural project on a small area of the site. The intention is that any produce grown on the site will be donated to charitable organisations."

In addition to the acquisition price, millions more was spent on the prison project.

At the last count, well over €40m had been splashed out on the stalled scheme.

The price per acre paid for the site was substantially higher than that paid for other land in the area in 2005 and led to considerable criticism of Mr McDowell.

The plan had been to build a complex with 1,400 cells catering for 2,200 inmates.

It was described as recently as 2010 as the cornerstone of the previous government's prison policy.