C&AG report: Super prison site bought for €50m now worth only €2m

The State has spent more than €50m to date on the doomed super prison project at Thornton Hall — and the north Dublin site is currently valued at just €2m.

The C&AG report said the total projected cost in 2006 for the construction of Thornton — at a massive €525m — was more than treble the estimated bill when the government agreed the development in 2004.

The report said the cost of the entire project appears to have been “significantly understated” by the Department of Justice and that the anticipated cost of refurbishing Mountjoy Prison, which Thornton was supposed to replace, was overstated.

The C&AG said that the refurbishment of Mountjoy, which is being completed, has cost €29m — a fraction of Thornton.

The entrance to Thornton Hall, the proposed relocation of Mountjoy prison to the rural locality of Thornton in Kilsallaghan, North County Dublin which many local people are against
The entrance to Thornton Hall, the proposed relocation of Mountjoy prison to the rural locality of Thornton in Kilsallaghan, North County Dublin which many local people are against

In January 2005, the then government purchased the 150-acre site at Thornton for €29.9m, at a time when Michael McDowell was minister for justice.

The Department of Justice subsequently purchased an additional 14.7 acres at a cost of €2.1m, bringing the total site bill to €32m.

The initial projected cost of the project in 2004 was in the region of €150m, which was to be partially paid for for by the sale of two prisons.

This included the Mountjoy complex — which comprised Mountjoy Prison, the Training Unit, Dochas (Women’s) Centre, and St Patrick’s (Juvenile) Institution.

St Patrick’s (Juvenile) Institution
St Patrick’s (Juvenile) Institution

By 2006, the actual projected cost jumped to €525m, and was to be built by public private partnership (PPP).

With the onset of the financial crisis, the preferred bidder got into difficulties and the estimated charge to the Prison Service rose by 30%.

Negotiations terminated in May 2009 and, due to budgetary restraints, the government could not pursue the project through exchequer funding.

The C&AG said that a total of €50.6m has been spent on Thornton to May 2015, and that there are recurrent costs of almost €109,000.

The report said that a Valuation Office study for the Prison Service in February 2015 put a value of the land at Thornton at €2.4m.

C&AG report: Super prison site bought for €50m now worth only €2m

Some €2.24m of this, about 140 acres, is not in use. Just 10 acres (worth €160,000) is in use in horticultural projects for 120 prisoners.

The report said the original plan was to close Mountjoy, which had been repeatedly condemned by international and domestic inspectors, because of overcrowding and the wholesale practice of “slopping out”.

At the time, the Prison Service was also dealing with a 50% jump in the prison population between 2005 and 2010.

Back in 2001, surveyors put the cost of demolishing Mountjoy and building a new jail on the site at €336m, increased to €400m in 2005.

The size of the prison at Thornton grew in scale, to 1,400 prisoners in single cells, which could be doubled up to 2,200 inmates. The Central Mental Hospital was also earmarked to go there.

C&AG report: Super prison site bought for €50m now worth only €2m

Given the delays with Thornton, refurbishment began at Mountjoy in 2010. Up to the end of 2014, €28.7m had been spent on capital works, with an additional cost of €600,000 this year to complete it. Each cell in Mountjoy is single occupancy and every one has in-cell sanitation.

The C&AG said: “The estimated cost of the larger [Thornton] development was €525m — around 3.5 times the cost indicated when the original purchase of the Thornton site was approved.

“That decision was underpinned by inadequate analysis of the likely costs of developing a new prison, which appear to have been significantly understated, and the costs of addressing the problems at the Mountjoy complex, which appear to have been overstated.”

The report said, according to the Department of Justice, there has been “no formal government decision to cancel the Thornton project” and a working group was set up last January to examine options for the site.


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