Razor wire to blame for prisons spending €40k a year on footballs

Razor wire security nets are being blamed for the €40,000-plus being spent on buying footballs in Irish prisons every year, Government documents show.

Almost €130,000 has been spent replacing footballs in jails over the past three years.

Cloverhill, Cork, and Limerick prisons are the biggest buyers and have spent nearly €55,000 between them in the past two years, accounting for two-thirds of the total bill.

Correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows the scale of the costs prompted the secretary general at the Department of Justice to "urgently" request information from the Irish Prison Service on the matter, including why expenditure on footballs was "so high".

A Prison Service reply gave details on overall costs and a breakdown per jail. A second reply provided reasons regarding Limerick and Cloverhill prisons.

The FoI material did not provide any other replies.

In relation to Limerick, the Prison Service said there were four exercise yards enclosed by razor wire.

"Balls are continuously destroyed on the wire. Prison ensures adequate supplies of football are available as they don’t have many other recreational facilities."

The reply said there were five exercise yards in Cloverhill and the "position of razor wire leads to a couple of balls being destroyed in each yard per day".

The correspondence said the vast majority of balls purchased were priced at €2 each, plus Vat (23%). This would roughly indicate that up to 8,000 footballs were bought in Cloverhill Prison in 2010 and 2011 and up to 6,500 in Limerick.

In addition, this would suggest that if only cheaper balls were bought that the €127,000 bill over the last three years would translate to roughly 51,600 balls.

Last July, the Irish Exam-iner reported on figures supplied to Independent TD Denis Naughten showing €80,000 had been spent on footballs in the past two years, increasing from €36,000 in 2010 to €46,000 in 2011.

Responding to the FoI material, Mr Naughten said: "An astronomical sum, over €42,000, is being spent every year on footballs. Surely with all the great minds we have in this country someone can come up with a solution. Surely sharp minds could design a netting to protect the balls from the razor wire."

A Prison Service spokesman said: "The costs... seem high, but a number of factors have to be borne in mind. The footballs used in prisons are made of light plastic to minimise the potential for injuries to staff and prisoners, which makes them more susceptible to damage.

"Netting underneath razor wire is not feasible to install from a security or safety point of view."