Thornton Hall prison to open at least two years late


THE PLANNED new prison at Thornton Hall in north Co Dublin will open at least two years later than first envisaged following delays in contract negotiations with the preferred tenderer.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said he still cannot say when negotiations with the preferred consortium will be concluded.

"If for any reason the current negotiations are not successfully concluded, there are other tenderers and other options which can still be considered," he said.

The preferred consortium comprises Michael McNamara Construction, Barclays Private Equity and GSL, a prisons operator. It was among a shortlist of four bidders announced in July 2006.

The group was confirmed as the preferred bidder in May 2007. The contract has as yet still not been finalised.

It means the initially envisaged completion date of 2010 will be pushed back to 2012 at the earliest.

The Department of Justice has repeatedly said the prison will take three years to build.

The project is going ahead on the basis of a public-private partnership (PPP). The successful consortium will pay for the costs of the design and construction of Thornton Hall.

It will receive fixed payments from the State over a 25-year period.

The consortium will also be responsible for the provision of certain services at the prison.

In the 18-month period since the preferred bidder was selected, the property market has deteriorated rapidly and credit markets have been hit hard.

It is unclear what impact, if any, these factors will have on the ability of the consortium or other shortlisted parties to commit to the project.

At a media briefing two weeks ago, Mr Ahern said cuts in Government expenditure would not affect plans for Thornton.

The 150-acre prison site at Kilsallaghan near Swords was acquired in controversial circumstances for €30 million in 2005. The purchase price per acre was far higher than any other sales in the area at that time.

The jail will hold 1,400 inmates if prisoners are housed one to a cell.

It will have capacity to hold more than one in most cells, giving a 2,200 maximum occupancy.

When complete the jail will be the biggest in Britain and Ireland by a very considerable margin, and one of the biggest in Europe.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said the Government was trying to fit as many inmates as possible into the jail to justify the price it paid for the site.

"All the experts tell you that such large prisons don't work from the point of view of rehabilitation, which should be a fundamental part of any prison system."