Thornton Hall 'too expensive'
The Irish Prison Service announced this evening it has broken off negotiations with the Léargas Consortium, the preferred bidder in the competition to design, build, maintain and finance a major prison facility at Thornton Hall in north county Dublin.
The Government paid some €30 million for agricultural land for the site, outside Swords in Co Dublin, as a location for the prison.
In a statement, the Irish Prison Service said the lengthy negotiations on the project came to a head recently. Léargas were formally requested to submit their final financial offer for the project. Their offer was deemed “to be not affordable in light of the significant increase in the cost of finance”.
The Department of Justice has confirmed that the project was simply unaffordable at the price being quoted by Léargas. In the current economic circumstances a more affordable solution for the Exchequer is required.
However Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern re-iterated the Government’s strong commitment to proceeding with a prison development at Thornton Hall.
He emphasised that “while in the short to medium term, the issue of increasing bed capacity in our prisons will be addressed by the provision of an additional 400 prison spaces this summer, nevertheless the need to replace the Mountjoy Prison Complex is well documented as is the critical need for additional prison spaces. What is now needed is a new project which reflects the current economic and fiscal realities and protects the taxpayers interests.”
The Minister indicated that he will be bringing comprehensive new proposals to Government in a matter of weeks which take into account "the present economic circumstances and prevailing market conditions including more competitive tender prices in the construction industry".
Labour spokesperson on Justice Pat Rabbitte said the announcement by the Irish Prison Service raised "serious questions about the viability of the entire project and illustrates again the shocking waste of taxpayers' money by this Government."
"Huge amounts of public money have been spent on this project yet we are no nearer to actually knowing when, if ever, a singe additional prison place will be created. We know that the former Minister for Justice, Michael
McDowell, sanctioned the purchase of the site at Thornton Hall at a cost of €29.9m, but a recent parliamentary question I tabled established that a further 8.7 acres had been acquired at a cost of €1.3m, while a further
€10.3m had been spent on professional fees and site works, including landscaping," he said.
"What this means is that €41.5m of tax payers money has been spent on what has all the appearances of being another white elephant," he added.
"Those who sold the land made vast sums of money, the professions have cleaned up, Michael McDowell has returned to the Four Courts while the taxpayer has been left with the most expensive vacant site in the country.
Those who sat at the cabinet table must share the blame for this financial debacle."
Mr Rabbitte said the country now faces a critical shortage of prison spaces at a time of continuing high crime.
"Minister McDowell closed various prisons in the confident belief that Thornton Hall would be open within a few years. There is very serious overcrowding in many of our existing prisons, with little prospect now of providing new spaces. This is a recipe for trouble in the coming summer months," he said.
Fine Gael Justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said it was PPARS and e-voting machines all over again.
”The announcement this evening that the Government is to abandon indefinitely plans to build a prison in Thornton Hall is an indictment of their incompetence and a devastating blow to Ireland’s penal system,” he said.
“The ‘mothballing’ of the project will have grave consequences for the judicial system overall and could well see serious criminals receiving early release because of a shortage of prison space.”
“Thornton Hall constitutes a stunning level of incompetence on behalf of the Government. Along with PPARS and the voting machines this represents a horrific waste of tax-payer’s money. The consequences of this failure
however are far more grave and relate to law and order."
“Even though this project began when the country was awash with funds, the Government still did not have the ability to get it started never mind get it finished," he added.