Mr McDowell and senior officials from several government departments toured part of the army camp yesterday. The minister said he viewed the site in Kilworth as being a far better location than Spike Island, which was first designated as the spot for a prison likely to hold 400 inmates.
The minister said Cork prison was overcrowded and was not up to the modern standards required. He added that it was difficult keeping it drug-free because it was in the city and this problem could be curtailed within a jail located in a rural area.
Mr McDowell indicated that Limerick prison also had its inadequacies and he believed it was more suitable for short-stay prisoners than those serving lengthy sentences.
Senator John Minihan, who toured the greenfield site with the minister, said he believed a decision to build a super prison near the village of Kilworth would lead to the downgrading of Limerick and Cork jails, and even the possibility that the one in Cork could be closed altogether.
Mr McDowell said there had been a lot of objections to reopening Spike Island, especially as locals wanted to preserve its heritage and he added that it would take €20 million to build a new bridge into that prison.
“I believe the site at Kilworth is up there. It will be near a major trunk route and the land is also in State ownership,” Mr McDowell said.
The Department of Defence owns about 1,600 acres there and handing 80 acres of it over to the Department of Justice will not interfere with any military activities.
Junior Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Michael Ahern, said he believed that a sod-turning ceremony on the site would happen within a year. Meanwhile, local politicians said they also supported the move.
Councillor John Murphy said he thought it would rejuvenate the local economy following announcements of major job losses at BUPA and FCI.
Councillor Liam O’Doherty said the public were in favour of it but needed to be consulted on an ongoing basis.
“I think that first option [on manning the jail] will go to prison officers who relocated in other jails when Spike Island closed down. They will be able to return to their own area.
“There are likely to be hundreds of jobs during construction and there will be many jobs created through local spin-offs for servicing contracts, Mr Minihan said.