SVP urges State to consider use of old Cork jail as emergency accommodation for homeless

A leading St Vincent de Paul campaigner has urged the State to consider using the soon-to-be-mothballed Cork Prison as emergency accommodation for the homeless.

Brendan Dempsey, former regional president of the charity’s Cork operations, spoke out yesterday as the Irish Prison Service (IPS) prepares for next month’s transfer of about 150 inmates from the jail on Rathmore Rd to the new €42m state-of-the-art jail built nearby.

The operation on February 12 will be the largest single transfer of inmates from one fully operational prison to a newly commissioned prison in the history of the State.

Once the inmates transfer, the facility will cease in a legal sense to be classed as a prison, before being mothballed.

Mr Dempsey said “it’s a no brainer” to use the old jail, which has 153 useable cells, kitchen facilities, and a sports hall, to address the city’s homelessness crisis in the short-term.

“It would be an absolute gift to the homeless people at the moment,” he said.

“We [SVP] have two hostels in the city sleeping 124 men each night. But we are running at 110% capacity.

“We have even turned some of our office space into sleeping space — it’s far from ideal but we have to do it.

“We have a long waiting list of people waiting to get into our hostels. There are men and women as we speak, watching what way the wind is blowing and what way the rain is falling, to decide outside which building they can sleep tonight without getting wet.

“In my view, it would be a sin to sell the old prison to a developer. It can’t be just left locked up. We have a housing crisis, and people need shelter. They should give it to some charity for use in emergency situations.”

At the very least, Mr Dempsey urged the authorities to consult with various charities in the city, and with the local authorities, to establish whether or not the old prison could be adapted for some short-term emergency housing use.

“We could certainly make use of it and I’m sure other charities would be delighted to be given the opportunity. I’m sure we could work out something between us,” he said.

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said once inmates are transferred to the new facility on February 12, the old facility will be secured.

“A decision with regard to its future use will be taken in due course,” he said.

The old Cork Prison was built as a detention unit by the British army in 1806.

Designed for 146 inmates but with a maximum capacity of 194, its committal figures reached a peak of 330 in mid-2010, with up to 60 cells at the time sleeping three, with one on the floor.

It was regularly criticised for its lack of in-cell sanitation which meant prisoners had to slop out daily using chamber pots.

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