Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here, along with my colleague Minister Noel Ahern, to officially open the new Headquarters of the Irish Prison Service, marking a very significant milestone in the history of the Service and indeed in the Government’s overall Decentralisation Programme.

I would like to particularly thank Brian McCarthy, Chair of the Prison Authority Interim Board; Brian Purcell, Director General of the Irish Prison Service, and all the staff of the Prison Service  for the  tremendous efforts I know have gone into ensuring that decentralisation from Clondalkin, Co. Dublin to County Longford has been completed so very successfully. 

Meeting the twin challenge of relocating the Prison Service Headquarters while, at the same time, continuing to provide a high quality service, particularly given the significant changeover of staff, is a very noteworthy achievement. I know the Director General had your wholehearted support in meeting the deadline for moving here.

Decentralisation of the Irish Prison Service has resulted in the relocation of 140 staff to Longford to date.  I am confident that staff will benefit from the very many advantages that Longford and its surrounding areas have to offer. Likewise I am confident that Longford itself will benefit from this relocation of staff and their families, which will contribute to the economic well-being of the area. 

For the many staff that have made the move to Longford, I understand that the reduction in the time spent commuting has already had very positive benefits including a much enhanced  work-life balance.  I also understand that there are plans for a gym and a Crèche on site which will further contribute to the well being of staff.

I wish you all the very best for the future in your personal lives and in your new corporate home here in Longford.  Your day to day work, as a key component of the criminal justice system, makes a significant contribution to the management of our prisoner population.  Without your commitment our penal system would suffer.
The decentralisation of the IPS Headquarters to Longford is tangible evidence of the Government's commitment to the decentralisation programme and to balanced regional development which, in my view, will bring substantial long term dividends for the whole country including the public servants and their families.  My colleague, Minister Noel Ahern, who has overall responsibility for Decentralisation as well as for the Office of Public Works, will say more on the decentralisation process but I must say I am delighted that the Irish Prison Service has been one of the early movers under the programme.  

It sends out a good signal that it is possible to move an operational unit out of the capital and at the same time to keep the focus on the many important issues facing the Irish Prison Service. Only last week we moved a step closer to seeing the commencement of the Thornton Hall Campus with the publication of the Environmental Impact Assessment.  This is the biggest infrastructural project ever undertaken by my Department and it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the prison project team working on this project.  I firmly believe that the replacement of the existing Mountjoy complex will give us far greater scope to work with prisoners to help them deal with the underlying causes that resulted in their imprisonment. I mention this because I feel it is important to highlight the importance which I and the Director General attach to the Thornton project.

Staying for a few moments on the theme of decentralisation I am glad to say that my Department has been to the forefront when it comes to implementing Government policy on decentralisation.  To date we have successfully transferred almost 500 posts from 12 agencies (including the IPS) to 7 different locations around the country. 

Just to briefly mention the bodies and the towns that have benefited:
• The Private Security Authority; the Garda Central Vetting Unit; and the Fixed Charge Penalty Office are now operational in Tipperary town and Thurles respectively;
• The Data Protection Commissioners Office has moved to Portarlington;
• INIS will open an Office in Tipperary Town next month (April);
• Sections from the Property Registration Authority have moved to  Roscommon town;
• Navan now hosts staff from the Garda Civilian Human Resources Unit and the National Property Services Regulatory Authority. In addition, staff from the Probation Service and the Coroners Unit will also move there in the coming months; and
• The Equality Authority now has an Office in Roscrea.

Returning to this specific decentralisation project, many people have worked extremely hard to make today possible. The success of this venture is due to the careful planning, attention to detail and the hard work of all involved.

I would like to thank in particular the staff of the OPW and congratulate them on the structural, aesthetic and ‘green’ features of the campus - John McMahon, Michael Carroll, Zee Gamiet-Parker, Conor Clarke, Tim McDonnell and all of their colleagues involved at every level of building project.

I would also like to thank Duggan Brothers (Contractors) Ltd. and in particular John Butler, Project Manager and his colleagues Kevin Hogg and Michael Shinnick for the construction of such a high quality building with state of the art facilities. Longford County Council also contributed to the success of this project.
Finally, I would also like to particularly acknowledge the important role played by Seán Aylward, Secretary General of my Department, who was Director General of the IPS at the time of the announcement of the Decentralisation Programme.  Sometimes time can elapse before plans are put in place.  This was not the case in respect of the move of the Headquarters of the IPS. The wheels were set in motion very speedily for the acquisition of a suitable site and the work begun by Mr. Aylward was built upon and brought to fruition by the current Director General, Brian Purcell.  I want to publicly thank both of you for your energy and leadership in making today happen.

I will now hand over to my colleague Minister Ahern to say a few words on the design features of this impressive building and on the decentralisation process as a whole.

Thank You.

7 March, 2008