On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who cannot be here today, I am pleased to present the Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Bill 2013 to this House.

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 Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  The Inspector of Prisons is of the view that the maximum capacity of the prison should be 146 prisoners. However, the prison regularly accommodates more than 200 prisoners and has at times accommodated more than 270 prisoners.

The main purpose of the proposed new prison development in Cork is to replace the substandard prison accommodation in the existing prison and provide a modern prison facility designed on the principle of rehabilitation and resettlement.  The new prison will be situated adjacent to the existing prison on Rathmore Road.

The investment being made in the development of a modern prison facility in Cork is a significant commitment by the Government given the current economic pressures being experienced.  The new prison, including cells with full in-cell sanitation and showering facilities, will end the practice of slopping out and also provide a vastly better infrastructure necessary for the education and rehabilitation of prisoners thus enhancing public safety.  Building on the site adjacent to the existing prison will also ensure value for money for the taxpayer. 

The new prison in Cork will have 170 cells which will house 275 prisoners and have a maximum capacity of 310 prisoners. All cells in the new facility will be approximately 12 square metres in size, have full in-cell sanitation and showering facilities and will be fully compliant with the standards for double occupancy set down by the Inspector of Prisons. Of the 170 cells in the new development, it is intended that approximately 30 will be designated exclusively for single occupancy. The planned capacity of 275 prisoners will be adequate for the needs of the prison’s catchment area.  I will return later to the capacity issue.

The Cork prison development will radically improve conditions for prisoners in the State’s most overcrowded prison where, on occasion, three prisoners have been required to share a cell which is 8 square metres in size, with two prisoners in bunk beds and one on a mattress on the floor.

Development consent for the proposed new prison development in Cork is being sought under Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007. Part 4 sets out a special procedure that may be applied for the purpose of determining whether consent should be granted to larger prison developments.  The purpose of the 2007 Act was to provide a more open and transparent mechanism for major prison developments under which an environmental impact assessment meeting EU standards must be prepared and where the Houses of the Oireachtas make the decision whether to grant development consent. This is done in the form of a resolution approved by both Houses, which must be then confirmed by an Act.

In June 2012, the Minister for Justice and Equality issued a direction under section 18 of the Prisons Act 2007 that Part 4 of the Act is to apply to the proposed construction of a prison on a portion of the site used as Cork prison.

In November 2012, public notice was given of the proposed prison development and observations and submissions were invited.  A rapporteur, Mr James Farrelly, was appointed to prepare 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.

The documents required by the legislation have been laid before the Houses.  These include the environmental impact assessment, visual representations of the exterior of the development, and the rapporteur’s report.  In addition, a document was laid before the Houses setting out the observations of the Minister for Justice and Equality on the environmental impact assessment and the rapporteur’s report.

The resolution approved by the Dáil and Seanad on Tuesday 18 June is the consent required for the Cork prison development to proceed.  It is, in layperson’s terms, the planning permission for the prison. It follows the format prescribed by section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007.  It 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. It also details an alteration to the original proposals that has been made in response to concerns expressed during the public consultation process.

A fundamental principle of the design and location of the prison has been to minimise and mitigate the impact of the development on the environment and the local community.  The public consultation process and the rapporteur’s report identified specific concerns on the part of local residents. In so far as is practicable, further measures are being taken to address these concerns.

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 Irish Prison Service will draw up a Good Neighbour policy which will provide a framework under which the concerns of local residents during the construction phase can be fully 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.

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.

As regards security issues, the existing prison is the only closed prison in the State that does not have a prison standard perimeter security 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 prison design.

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.

In order to mitigate noise pollution and dust during the construction of the prison, the perimeter wall will be constructed before construction of the prison buildings begins. 

This short Bill, to confirm the resolutions passed by the Dáil and Seanad on 18 June, is a requirement of section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007.  Before the Cork prison development can proceed, an Act of the Oireachtas confirming those resolutions is required.  This Bill is the final stage in the development approval process.

The Bill contains only two sections. Section 1 confirms the resolutions under section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007 that were passed by the Dáil and Seanad on 18 June. Section 2 provides the short title of the Bill.

Returning to the issue of the capacity of the new prison, I am aware of the concerns of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice regarding the intention to provide for double occupancy of cells in the new prison.  This issue was also raised by Deputies during the Dáil debate on the resolution.

Given the current number of prisoners in custody – about 4,250 on any given day - the Irish Prison Service is not in a position to provide single cell accommodation to all prisoners.  Single cell occupancy across the system would result in a bed capacity of approximately 3,000 and would not be possible to achieve without releasing sizeable numbers of prisoners considered to represent a threat to public safety or, alternatively, by constructing another 1,000 cells and all of the ancillary support infrastructure that they would require. In the current economic environment, such an ambitious building programme is not a realistic option.

In addition, it should be borne in mind that in some cases prisoners are housed together for reasons other than lack of capacity. Family members, friends and co-accused prisoners often request to be assigned a shared cell. Shared cell accommodation can be very beneficial from a management point of view, particularly for those who are vulnerable and at risk of self-harm. There will always be a need for certain prisoners to be accommodated together.

As outlined in the Irish Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan, it is intended to align the capacity of our prisons with the guidelines laid down by the Inspector of Prisons by 2014, in so far as this is compatible with public safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system.  In 2012 and in the first quarter of this year, priority has been given to reducing the chronic overcrowding in Mountjoy, Cork and Limerick Prisons and the Dóchas Centre.

I am aware that another important matter of concern to Deputies is the provision of family-friendly visitor facilities in the new Cork prison.

The Irish Prison Service recognises the importance for those in prison of maintaining and developing their relationships with their children and families.  The Irish Prison Service is committed to assisting in any way it can with achieving those objectives. Seeking to accomplish this raises a wide range of sensitivities and challenges which require an appropriate balance between security requirements and conditions appropriate for family visits. 
 
The proposed new prison in Cork will have a modern visiting facility that is centred on the need to provide an environment for visits that welcoming and comfortable, in so far as that is possible in a prison setting.
 
Following publication of the Irish Penal Reform Trust report entitled "Picking Up the Pieces: The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment", the Director General of the Irish Prison Service established a working group to direct how best to implement the recommendations, in so far as practicable, across the prison estate.
 
The working group has completed a detailed survey of existing visiting facilities and supports. The Irish Prison Service working group has also embarked on a short and targeted consultation process with various stakeholders, including relevant community representatives. It is envisaged that this consultation process will inform the group’s approach to the detailed recommendations contained in the IPRT report. 
 
In addition, a specialist architect has been engaged to undertake a review of the visiting facilities in the 12 closed prisons in the State with a view to bringing forward a set of proposals for the improvement of the visiting facilities at each location.

In conclusion, I should mention that construction of the new Cork prison is expected to commence in October 2013 and be completed in early 2016.

As action is urgently required to address the chronic overcrowding and inadequate conditions in Cork Prison, the Minister and I hope that this Bill will be passed by both Houses before the summer recess so that tendering for the construction of the new prison can proceed.

On behalf of the Minister, I commend this Bill to the House.

ENDS