Concerns have also been raised about the transfer from the Curragh of dozens of the country's sex offenders. The majority of approximately 90 inmates held in the Kildare prison have been convicted of sex offences.
Educators and prison reformers were stunned to hear of the plans to close Spike Island in Cork and the Curragh in Kildare despite persistent rumours over the last number of months the two facilities were the most likely to face the cut if no agreement was reached between management and employees over the crippling 64 million overtime bill.
The Government plans to mothball Spike Island and the Curragh and take the open prisons Shelton Abbey in Wicklow and Loughan House in Cavan away from the management of the Irish Prison Service, effectively privatising them.
It also plans to privatise prison escorts.
The Teachers Union of Ireland yesterday strongly condemned the plan, pointing out the high numbers of inmates held on Spike and in the Curragh on education programmes. In 2002, at the Cork facility, where there is an average daily occupancy of 84, 86% took part in programmes. In the Curragh, 75% of the 92 inmates voluntarily participated in educational activities. Vocational Education Committees provide the services.
"The complete lack of consultation regarding the future of the education units is deplorable. The Minister for Education and Science, Noel Dempsey, must defend the interests of some of the most disadvantaged members of society by opposing the closure of these prisons," said TUI president Derek Dunne.
Pam Lorenz, head teacher at Spike Island, has appealed to the Government not to proceed with the closure of the former military barracks. "It would be a huge loss to the Prison Service," she said.
"The first we heard about it was on Monday night on the news although we had been told management were anxious to talk to us. Then it just broke.
"There had been talk of closure, talk about privatisation. But it was all rumours and conjecture," she said.
"Our concerns are for the education of the young people. We have developed a very cohesive team.
All that will be lost as the majority of these prisoners may be going to Limerick where the educational facilities are very stretched."
The younger inmates around 20 are under 18 can be expected to be transferred to St Patrick's in Dublin, where only 63% take part in education programmes.
In a separate development last night, prison insiders questioned the wisdom of moving nearly 80 sex offenders from the Curragh. "I am sure there is some plan maybe send them to the Midlands but they will need a completely separate area or there will be huge problems," said one source.