DRUG addicts assigned to one of Ireland's open prisons will be bussed into a nearby town in order to avail themselves of methadone.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is to roll out the arrangement at Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow, which houses low-risk inmates.
Prisoners who take methadone for their addiction will be transported to a pharmacy in Arklow to be dispensed the medication.
The Herald understands that prisoners will be bussed in before the shop is open to the public.
In high-security prisons such as Mountjoy and Wheatfield, inmates are given methadone by a visiting pharmacist.
However, senior IPS officials are to give the green light for methadone users in Shelton Abbey to travel to Arklow town centre, just over 5km away.
Shelton Abbey will take its first methadone users later this year, as announced by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
Those on methadone will be escorted by bus into a designated pharmacy. Sources said last night that this was cheaper than bringing a registered pharmacist into the prison.
"It should be remembered that prisoners who stay in Shelton Abbey often travel into Arklow for work, projects and other purposes as part of being in an open prison," a source said.
However the news has caused alarm among locals in Wicklow.
Staff at the prison are also understood to be concerned about the development.
Fianna Fail councillor and local businessman Tommy Annesley said it will change the face of Shelton Abbey.
"Shelton Abbey is an open prison and there hasn't been much trouble since it opened.
"However, we feel allowing methadone users to be sent there will change the face of it entirely. It will attract a completely different clientele.
"It is also completely wrong to sent prisoners into a town so they can satisfy their addiction. They are still prisoners at the end of the day.
"People will not feel comfortable sharing the same pharmacy with those who spending a period in jail. I'm calling on the prison service to abandon this plan entirely."
An IPS spokesman said that the move reflects the "progressive rehabilitation model" adopted by the prison service.