MORE than €40 million will be spent on the troubled Thornton Hall prison project before a cell is built.
A contract worth €2.6m is being signed this week for a company to build a 1.5km access road, including an underpass, to the site in rural north Dublin.
The first phase of the resurrected project was announced by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday.
The original plan, for a 1,400-cell “super prison,” under a Public Private Partnership, collapsed in May 2009.
Mr Ahern said phase one of the new plan involved the construction of 400 prison cells by 2014.
He said phase two and three — involving 500 cells each — were dependant on future government funding.
He said the road construction would be followed by a perimeter wall, with construction starting in early 2011. He said water and sewage services would follow, with the main project, for the 400 cells, going out to tender in early 2011 and completing by 2014.
He said the 400 cells, all male, had a capacity of 700 inmates. He said other facilities included education, workshops and visiting centres.
Mr Ahern said around €40m, including the site purchase price of €30m, would be spent before the main contract was awarded. He said the sale of Shanganagh Castle, for €29m, would help pay the overall cost.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said if the project had to go ahead, that all cells should be kept single cells and not doubled up.
IPRT boss Liam Herrick said the main issue was addressing conditions, particularly toilet, and overcrowding in Mountjoy and Cork prisons.
“There was up to 700 inmates in Mountjoy last week, in the main slopping out.
“You have up to seven sharing three buckets in a cell, some of the worst conditions anywhere in developed world, yet there is no action plan to close Mountjoy or for remedial works. The State is liable to be sued in the courts.”
Mr Ahern said he would like to get rid of slopping out: “That needs resources. There is a significant programme over the next two to three years to ensure slopping out, as such, is a thing of the past.”
He dismissed suggestions too many people were in prison for minor offences.
“80% of the prison population are in for 12 months or more. These are not boy scouts or girl guides,” he said.
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