The existing prison in Cork, whose main cell block dates from the early nineteenth century, is no longer fit for purpose. The prison does not have in-cell sanitation and lacks the basic infrastructure required of a modern prison. The poor conditions have been strongly criticised by the Inspector of Prisons and the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). The Inspector of Prisons is of the view that the maximum capacity of the prison should be 146 prisoners. However, the prison has typically accommodated 270 or more prisoners. Very early in my appointment as Minister, I visited Cork prison and saw first hand the chronic overcrowding and inadequate physical infrastructure.
The main purpose of the new prison facility is to replace the substandard prison accommodation in Cork and to provide a modern prison facility designed on the principle of rehabilitation and resettlement.
The construction of the new prison will eliminate the practice of prisoners having to slop out and will provide adequate accommodation for prisoners in accordance with our national and international obligations. It will also provide the infrastructure necessary for the education and rehabilitation of prisoners. Building on the site adjacent to the existing prison will ensure value for money for the taxpayer.
The new prison will provide approximately 275 spaces for prisoners based on double cell occupancy. The prison will have a peak accommodation capacity for 310 prisoners which will only be reached in emergency circumstances. All the cells will have integral toilets and showers.
Development consent for the new prison is being sought under Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007. Part 4 sets out a special procedure that may be applied to major prison developments. It provides a transparent mechanism for the Oireachtas to grant development consent by means of a resolution approved by each House and confirmed by an Act. The confirming Bill will be published after the resolutions have been approved. In June 2012, I issued a direction that Part 4 of the Act is to apply to the proposed prison development in Cork.
In November 2012, public notice was given of the proposed prison development and observations and submissions were invited. A rapporteur, Mr James Farrelly, prepared a report identifying the main issues raised and summarising the submissions and observations received. Twelve submissions, including a detailed submission from Cork City Council, and several petitions were received. There is no provision under the legislation for the rapporteur to comment on the validity or otherwise of submissions made nor is there any provision for him to make recommendations.
I have laid before the Houses the documents required by the legislation, which include the environmental impact assessment, visual representations of the exterior of the development, and the rapporteur’s report. I also took the opportunity to lay a document setting out my observations on the environmental impact assessment and the rapporteur’s report.
The resolution lists the main measures taken to avoid, reduce or offset any possible significant adverse effects of the development on the environment and sets out the conditions to be complied with in the construction of the prison.
Visually conditioned concrete with a light-coloured finish will be used on the sections of the perimeter wall most visible to the public. To address a specific concern about the impact on residential property adjacent to the site, the height of the wall around the horticultural area at the northern end of the site will be reduced to approximately 5.2 metres.
The existing prison in Cork is the only closed prison in the State without a prison standard perimeter wall. As the new prison will have such a wall and an outer "cordon sanitaire" secured by a 2.5 metre fence, security risks will be significantly reduced. The need to prevent drugs or contraband being thrown into the prison from outside has been carefully considered in the design of the prison.
As regards privacy issues, the CCTV system will be restricted to prevent viewing into neighbouring residential property and obscured glazing will be used in all windows overlooking such property.
The Irish Prison Service and the principal contractor will liaise closely with An Garda Síochána, Cork City Council and other interested parties in preparing a traffic management plan to minimise the impact of construction traffic on local residents and businesses.
To reduce noise and dust during the construction period, the perimeter wall will be constructed before construction of the prison buildings begins.
The Irish Prison Service will draw up a Good Neighbour policy to provide a framework under which the concerns of local residents can be dealt with. The Irish Prison Service Project Manager will act as liaison officer and will set up a local consultation group to address any issues that arise during the construction period.
Construction of the new prison is expected to commence in October 2013 and be completed in early 2016.
This resolution was discussed by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality last Wednesday, 12 June. All parties are represented on the Committee and I understand that many of the Committee members have themselves visited Cork Prison and seen the conditions there. The Committee was strongly in favour of the development of the new prison in Cork.
As action is urgently required to address the chronic overcrowding and inadequate conditions in Cork Prison, I hope that the resolution and the confirming Bill will be passed by both Houses before the summer recess so that tendering for the construction of the new prison can proceed.
18 June 2013