Former Thornton Hall prison site may be used as building land
Site which has cost State €50m and is now worth €2.4m has been flagged for housing use
The entrance to the Thornton Hall prison site in north county Dublin in 2008. Photograph: Alan Betson
The Government is considering the transfer of Thornton Hall, once to be the site of a new prison, for use as building land, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has confirmed.
A working group has looked at future uses for the fully serviced 150 acres adjacent to Dublin Airport, purchased in 2005 for €29.9 million to build a 1,400-cell replacement for Mountjoy Prison.
Described as a “Celtic Tiger mistake”, the land has been mostly vacant for the past 14 years, although part of it is being used for a community gardening scheme for prisoners.
Oireachtas committees have called for the transfer of the land from the Department of Justice to Housing to deal with the housing and homelessness crisis.
Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy said: “It is time for a decision. There has been too much navel gazing around this site.”
The total amount spent on the site came to more than €50.6 million when access road and services development, sewage works, communications and legal fees were included.
But by 2015 the State’s Valuation Office valued it at just €2.4 million. In the past five years, almost €700,000 has been spent on maintenance of the site, according to figures released to Ms Murphy.
The working group held discussions with Fingal County Council. As the site is close to the M50 and adjacent to Dublin Airport it may be considered suitable for industrial use. It is fully serviced for water and sewage, and has access roads.
A spokesman for the local authority said: “Fingal County Council is not in active discussions with the Department of Justice in relation to the land at Thornton Hall.”
Mr Flanagan said that more recently the site has also been flagged to the Department of Housing. He said it “will be considered both in the context of broader State requirements for land assets and future requirements in relation to detention of prisoners”.
The Minister noted that in the decade since the original plan for its use as a prison “international research has tended towards smaller prisons within reach of support communities as the best option for rehabilitation”.
Ms Murphy said with the spending of more than €27 million on refurbishment of Mountjoy and the creation of over 90 new cells in the city centre prison, it was highly unlikely that a prison complex would now be built in such a rural area.
Ms Murphy, a member of the Public Accounts Committee which examined the purchase of the site, asked if a review of its potential value and benefit to the State had been undertaken.
She echoed calls for the Department of Housing to take it over or for it to be used for industrial development because of its proximity to Dublin Airport.