Secretary General Brian Purcell, Director General Michael Donnellan, John Hegarty from PJ Hegarty & Sons, invited Guests

I am very pleased to welcome you all here today on what is a very significant occasion for the Irish Prison Service and indeed a historic day in the future of Cork Prison.

Following my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality in 2011, I conducted a number of prison visits including, in May of that year, a visit to Cork prison. I felt it was important for me, as Minister, to see our prison conditions at first hand. I was aware from reading the various reports from Judge Michael Reilly, Inspector of Prisons, the prison Visiting Committees and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture that conditions in some of our prisons were not what would be expected of a modern prison system.

It was clear to me, from my visit to Cork, that the existing facility came nowhere near to meeting the standards for conditions of imprisonment that are acceptable to a modern society and urgent action needed to be taken.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend Governor Jim Collins and all the staff of Cork Prison for the work they do for the prisoners in their care, on a daily basis, in working conditions that are severely restricted and not fit for purpose.

Many of you will know that the existing prison in Cork dates from the early 1800's. Prisoners in the prison are required to slop out on a daily basis and it has been the case that the prison has typically accommodated 270 or more prisoners and, on some occasions, has housed over 310 prisoners.
This has occurred in a facility which the Inspector of Prisons has recommended should be accommodating significantly less than that.

Having visited a number of our other prisons in December 2011, in advance of the provision of an overall Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan in April 2012, I asked the Director General to undertake a detailed study of the possibilities for improving conditions in Cork prison and to report back to me by the end of January 2012.

As part of this process a feasibility study was carried out by the consultancy firm of Rogerson Reddan which set out the options available for the replacement of the prison facilities and concluded that building a new prison was the only sensible approach.

A document titled "Unlocking Community Alternative – a Cork Approach" was presented to me by the Director General, which I published at the end of February 2012. The purpose of this specific Strategic Plan for Cork was to set out the strategic actions to be taken to address the twin problems of chronic overcrowding and inadequate physical infrastructure in Cork.

Taking all factors into account I was satisfied that, in the current economic climate, the approach being proposed  was the most prudent and cost effective and would replace the existing facility in the shortest timeframe possible.

The Irish Prison service had proposed to construct a new prison to serve the Munster area on a 160 acre site owned by the Department of Defence in Kilworth, Co Cork. However, the reduced capital envelope did  not allow the Prison Service to proceed with the development of Kilworth. Such a venture on a greenfield site would further delay this project and incur significant additional costs arising from the requirement to build an access road, perimeter wall and install services such as water and foul to the site.

Following the preparation of a plan, including details of design and cost, by the Irish Prison Service, for the replacement of the prison within the existing Justice Capital programme I recommended that the Government approve the replacement of the prison on the existing car park site.

With the support of my colleagues in Government, I secured funding for the project through direct exchequer funding and a loan from the Council of Europe Development Bank via the National Treasury Management Agency.

I am pleased to be in a position today to formally sign a contract, to a value of €35 million, with PJ Hegarty & Sons for the construction of a new prison at Rathmore Road in Cork city. I can confirm that construction of the new Prison will commence on the 20th January and the new prison will be completed in July of next year and should be fully operational by the end of 2015. I very much look forward to attending the official opening ceremony.

The new prison will represent the largest single investment in new infrastructure by the Irish Prison Service in its history and it is, I believe, a long overdue piece of investment. I am very grateful to all concerned for bringing this project to fruition and for doing so in less than two years.

The new prison facility will replace the substandard prison accommodation in Cork and provide a modern prison facility designed on the principles 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 necessary infrastructure required to provide constructive activities for prisoners including work, training and educational opportunities which are vital to aid rehabilitation. 

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 that will only be reached in emergency circumstances. All the cells will have toilets and showers. 

The new prison in Cork will have a completely new type of visiting facility that is centred on the need to provide an environment for visits that is welcoming and comfortable in so far as is possible in a prison setting.

The new family centred visits facility will reflect the recognition by the Irish Prison Service of the importance for those in prison of maintaining and, if at all possible, developing their relationships with their children and families. 

Overall, the development will make a significant contribution to the modernisation of our prison estate and to making prison a more rehabilitative experience for those imprisoned in Cork. This is of crucial importance if we are to reduce the level of recidivism. In addition, the €35 million investment being made by the Irish Prison Service in this project will be a welcome boost to the local economy.

This project is expected to create up to 200 specialist, professional, skilled and unskilled jobs at its peak and industry experts would also say that the majority of the €35 million will be re-invested in the local economy. As well as the direct and indirect employment in the project, there are multiplier effects associated with local purchasing of materials and services and local spending of wages and salaries.

I am pleased to note that, in recognition of its relationship with the community around the site of the new prison, the Irish Prison Service has commenced a process of public consultation to identify suitable community based projects that it can consider for limited financial assistance. To date, the IPS has agreed to make a contribution to the Glen Community by supporting and expanding activities in two local schools, St. Brendan’s and St. Mark’s.

The IPS contribution will assist these schools to be progressive in supporting children from the area and will provide added value to the tremendous work already being done in those schools thus giving the pupils opportunities to develop talents and skills that will enhance their educational outcomes. The IPS remains open to making other limited but reasonable contributions to community projects in the vicinity of the new prison.

I am aware that the construction period may bring some disruption to the local community in the immediate surrounds of the construction site. I am assured that every effort will be made to keep this disruption to an absolute minimum.

Finally, as you are aware, the Government committed in the "Programme for Government" to the modernisation of the prison estate and the elimination of slopping out.  Considerable progress has been made in this regard in Mountjoy Prison where the refurbishment of the A,B and C wings have been completed and a preferred tenderer has been selected for the final phase, the refurbishment of the D Wing.  This will finally see the ending of slopping out in Mountjoy prison, as the construction of this new facility will do in Cork.

I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to all for their hard work in bringing this important project to this point and to wish the Irish Prison Service, PJ Hegarty and Sons and also the Sweett Group the very best of luck as they commence on the road to delivering this essential contribution to the modernisation of our prison estate.

Thank you.