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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Feb 2007

Vol. 631 No. 3

Prisons Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time.".

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and, therefore, I have an interest in the legislation. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley. A number of weeks ago, I visited the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, following an initiative by Newstalk106. Along with a number of others, I had debated the issues raised in the report of the Mental Health Commission the previous week on the radio station with the director of the Central Mental Hospital. I suggested that a number of us should visit the hospital and examine its facilities. I had visited the hospital in a previous life as a member of the Eastern Health Board and as founding chairman of the south western area health board. The issue of whether the facilities at this institution represent a hospital or a prison environment has always been debated. The siting of the proposed new mental hospital is also a political issue. However, I found the visit a profound experience. The Minister of State has an interest in this area but those of us who also have an interest would like him to be aware of the issues and concerns at the facility.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide for matters relating to prisons and prisoners. The Bill addresses a number of issues, including the possibility of certain prisoner escort services being contracted out by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; revised prisoner disciplinary procedures, including the establishment of appeal tribunals; planning provisions for the construction of new prisons and extensions to existing prisons; the establishment of the office of the inspector of prisons; the participation of prisoners in certain applications to court by means of a live television link from prison; and charging prisoners for certain optional services.

Prisoner escort services are an essential part of daily prison life and they put a great deal of pressure on prison guards and others who are prevented from carrying out other duties during their working day. Many people, therefore, will welcome the Minister's proposal to use contractors to provide prisoner escort services. The new proposal will apply to custody officers so that full-time prison staff will be afforded more time to carry out other important duties. However, I refer to the importance of ensuring the safety of prisoners and staff who have the responsibility of looking after them. There is a need to ensure the right people of good character and good social skills are appointed to these roles in the Prison Service. The Minister has made a similar point regarding the Garda Reserve and I have raised this with him on a number of occasions. It is important that we support him.

Colleagues raised the issue of the acceptability of using prison to address crime issues. I attended a positive meeting in Brookfield parish in Tallaght last night where a strong campaign has been mounted to lobby the Minister to fund a Garda diversion project. Gardaí, parents and youth workers from the Tallaght Youth Service pointed out that efforts must always be made to find alternative ways to deal with people responsible for crime other than locking them up. There will always be a case for imprisoning certain offenders and this is the subject of political debate but alternatives should be provided. I have always strongly supported Garda youth diversion projects, particularly the KEY project in Tallaght and the STAY project in St. Aengus's parish in Tymon North. A strong campaign has been launched regarding the Brookfield project. I hope the Minister of State will support my efforts to lobby the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in that regard. The Minister has always been open to suggestions regarding the youth diversion programme. Prison must be the ultimate sanction. I have often involved myself in cases of people sentenced to prison because they defaulted on their debts. While I do not condone law breaking, in a civilised society there should be sanctions for people who break the law other than locking them up. We should not stand over putting the wrong people in prison.

I refer to the restorative justice programme, of which I am strong advocate. Two programmes were implemented in Tallaght and Nenagh. I was the founding chairman of the Tallaght mediation bureau and I was involved at the commencement of the Tallaght restorative justice programme, which worked.

Restorative justice has been the subject of a report that was launched recently by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, of which I am a member. Under the chairmanship of Deputy Ardagh and with great work by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, the Fine Gael spokesperson on justice, we prepared a detailed report which is on the Minister's desk.

Restorative justice was established in 1999 and is funded by the probation and welfare service and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Since then, it has developed a strong working relationship with the probation and welfare service, victim advocates, the Garda and the courts. Restorative justice has been to the forefront in promoting and practising the principles and philosophy of restorative justice in Ireland. Restorative justice provides a number of programmes to the courts, notably offender reparation and victim-offender mediation. It is a founding member of the European Forum for Victim-Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice and a member of the criminal justice alliance, which has consultative status at the United Nations and its working group on restorative justice.

Restorative justice recognises that crime hurts victims, the offender and the wider community, and that all parties who are affected should be part of the response. It acknowledges that the victim's perspective is central to deciding how to repair the harm and that accountability means the offender accepting responsibility for his or her behaviour and acting to repair the harm which has been done.

Restorative justice is not an alternative but it is about changing how we view crime and its effects. I do not view restorative justice as a soft option. We must have a clear understanding that one of the fundamental objectives of restorative justice is to provide a voice for victims of crime. It is about victims being heard and telling their story. It provides the opportunity for victims to ask questions of the offender, seek reassurances, vent some of their anger and frustration and seek apology and reparation.

Another fundamental objective of restorative justice is offender accountability which relates to offenders being personally accountable, taking personal responsibility, raising their awareness and learning about the effect of their behaviour on victims, victims' families, their communities, themselves and their own families. Restorative justice models and programmes have a certain flexibility. They can be adapted and utilised pre-court, pre-sentence and post-sentence. In this regard we should fully explore the positive contribution restorative justice could provide at all stages of the criminal justice system.

The working group on restorative justice, which is to be established by the Tánaiste in the near future, has an opportunity to ensure we maximise the potential benefits this approach could bring to our criminal justice system and, most importantly, the people in our communities who are directly affected by crime. I believe my colleagues in Tallaght are in a position to make a significant contribution to the work of this committee. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, to convey my views to the Tánaiste.

The 2005 annual report of the Prison Service provides a number of interesting facts. The annual cost of keeping a prisoner in custody is €90,900, almost a 10% increase over the previous year's figure of €83,800. A total of 85% of all committals in 2005 were for non-violent offences. Of the total number of women committed to prison in 2005, some 90% were incarcerated for non-violent offences. A total of 78% of all committals under sentence in 2005 were for 12 months or less. A total of 89% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for sentences of 12 months or less. A total of 39% of all committals under sentence in 2005 were for three months or less. A total of 55% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for sentences of three months or less.

Over the next 100 days prior to the general election many views will be expressed about crime and issues relating to justice. From listening to colleagues contribute to this debate, the general consensus that is emerging is that courts should be tough on real criminals who should be dealt with severely and while prison is important as a deterrent, it is not always the answer. I make no apology for stating that it is not right for the Garda to take people to prison for television licence offences or similar matters. I accept crime must be dealt with, but a different way must be found to address certain offences. It is time we seriously examined this issue.

Other colleagues may have more experience of prison visits but I have visited prisons on occasion for humanitarian reasons for family members of constituents. Regardless of how comfortable or modern some of our prison facilities are, I am always struck by the feeling that I do not want to be there. I visited a prison before Christmas and I got a sense from prisoners that they very much wish to be in a drugs-free environment. People say there is a serious drug problem in all prisons. This is not just an Irish phenomenon. Many prisoners, some of whom are serving long sentences, do not wish to get involved in drugs and they have tried hard in this regard with the support of staff and families. I get a clear sense that such people wish to remain in a drugs-free environment. It is important such people get the support they need. There will always be difficulties in that regard as people develop more innovative ways of beating the system.

A colleague referred today to the siting of new prisons. I was involved recently in a campaign that developed on foot of a proposal to site a new prison on the edge of my constituency. Such a development gives rise to many issues. Politicians are told not to be parochial and to look at the national picture.


Deputy Neville is more experienced at being a parochial Deputy than I so I do not know why he is trying to heckle me.

I am not heckling the Deputy.

Acting Chairman

Deputy O'Connor should address his remarks through the Chair.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I appreciate his protection from more experienced Limerick colleagues.

The Deputy should not laugh.

We need these institutions and I wished to add that point to the debate. In the minute that remains I wish to stress the importance of legislation, which is difficult during a late sitting when the Chamber is somewhat empty. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has fans and critics but there is general agreement on this Bill. Colleagues are entitled to make their points but we must deal with issues that concern people. As we approach May, there will be many distractions but we must continue to pass legislation. I would be just as happy if I was in Tallaght but the job must be done.

I bet he would.

People have elected us to do something. I was quoted in The Sunday Tribune, a newspaper that does not quote me very often. I told them how I was asked to go to a meeting in Tallaght but could not attend because of Dáil business. It happened again tonight, I should be at a meeting at the St. Aengus community centre but instead I am here.

He is unbelievable.

The woman stated that I should go to the meeting and when I responded that I had to attend the Dáil, she told me that I was not elected to attend the Dáil.

In that case Deputy O'Connor should sit down or go back to Tallaght.

As Deputy O'Connor was speaking about the forthcoming election I might remind him of what happened in Dublin West during the last election. The Taoiseach's vanity project was to build a stadium, sports complex and swimming pool on a lovely site in Abbotstown. I supported the sports complex and swimming pool but the Progressive Democrat candidate was opposed to the whole plan. The current Tánaiste supported his opposition and likened the Taoiseach to Ceaucescu with regard to the Abbotstown project. The candidate for Dublin West, who has since moved to Dublin North, sported badges suggesting flushing the Abbotstown project down the toilet as befits a Ceaucescu project.

In that context it is ironic that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform spent €30 million of taxpayers' money on his vanity trip that would do justice to Ceaucescu. It may be on the scale of a Romanian prison in the communist era or an American farm prison. It was acquired at an extraordinary price, far higher than land values in the area. History repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. The same Minister is presiding over a project that he would compare to a Ceaucescu project if he was in Opposition. Now that he is the man in command, the rules of engagement have changed.

A section of the Bill gives the Minister power to plug the planning defects in the Thornton Hall prison site retrospectively, which is deeply inappropriate and should be examined in detail and opposed. Regarding Part 4, the Minister proposes to replace the Planning and Development Act with a new structure that makes the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the planning agent for any prison development in the country. Planning arrangements have traditionally have been made through local authorities, followed by appropriate observations and appeal to An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála retains a key role regarding strategic infrastructure. Why should the Minister become his own planning agent?

The Bill provides for a pseudo consultation process, with a rapporteur who is to receive submissions on prison development. What will the rapporteur do with the submissions? Perhaps he will decorate his living room with them or file them in the Minister's office. The Minister may be minded to glance at them on a light weekend but is under no requirement to take cognisance of them. It is an extraordinary development in Irish planning law.

When the Minister acquired the site at Thornton Hall the provision by which he claimed total exemption from planning law on security grounds was defective in respect of constitutional rights of those with legitimate queries about the prison. It was also defective under EU law, which has detailed strictures on environmental areas and habitat directives. Although he has embarked on a complex process for developing the prison, I am not sure the Minister signed a contract. He might enlighten us on progress on this matter. He is now attempting to pass legislation with retrospective effect and if the issue is challenged in European courts he can claim that he plugged the hole afterwards.

Roscommon County Council learned about the Minister's reputation for planning to its considerable cost. In this case the Minister seeks to take all powers in respect of planning matters. It is an extraordinary, bad precedent to set in this House. The Minister may argue that he will use these powers for the proposed prison in Cork, which is on State land. I understand there are as yet no serious local objections but to deny the normal process of local input is anti-democratic. When will the tenders close? I understand that one party tendering for the prison contract has withdrawn. Who will evaluate the tendering process? Is the Minister the sole authority on all matters concerning prisons?

Serious difficulties have been acknowledged after the fact about road access to the Thornton site. The existing R130 has become problematic. It appears the Minister may need to buy separate land to provide for a new road. Does the Department have an estimate of what that is likely to cost? There have been various suggestions of relative costs attaching to land acquisition for the road. The original assessment does not seem to have taken account of the school on the road to the prison, Kilcoskan. As the Comptroller and Auditor General's report indicates, the prison site was scored relative to several other potential sites but it appears that it was introduced very late, after the procedure was completed and did not meet the criteria which the Minister and the Department had set out in assessing the prison site.

The local residents who have worked hard to make their observations on the prison site known and to have dialogue about this have been continually frustrated in their attempts to get information under the Freedom of Information Act. They have also approached the Committee of Public Accounts where I have seen some of their correspondence, including some from a person with wide experience in land dealing in that part of north county Dublin, who made expert comments on the extraordinary price the Minister paid for an unserviced site. The Department in some instances compared serviced to unserviced sites and in north and west county Dublin, the price differential between the two is significant.

Many women Deputies in this and previous Dáileanna campaigned for the Dóchas centre as a humane location for women prisoners to access, or be with, their young children. The centre has worked well and been favourably reported on, but it is to be swept away and transferred to the new prison. The Minister also plans to transfer the Central Mental Hospital to the site. This will create an American-style super-prison located on the edge of Dublin with poor transport and road links.

Many Members who represent towns with ready road and rail access would be interested in a project such as a large prison because it would bring secure and anchoring employment to their area. The prison in Portlaoise is a major employer in that area. When the development of the prison in Castlerea was delayed, there were signs in the town stating "build our prison now". The location in north county Dublin chosen by the Minister is very different. Although it is on the northern fringe of the M50, it is in quite a remote location with a valuable local heritage of archaeology, flora and fauna.

The area is close to the airport and constantly faces serious difficulties in the face of different forms and proposals for development. It will serve a significant population from Dublin city centre for whom it would be easier to access the prison in Portlaoise, which is on a railway line, or one in any significant town in the greater Dublin region. Many of those towns would welcome such a project.

While the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is moving the prison from Mountjoy to Thornton, his colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, is arguing that the national children's hospital to serve children from around the country should move back into Dublin city centre where there are traffic problems. One might expect that the land on the old prison site would be used for the children's hospital. The children who attend Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals, on the outskirts of the city, are to move into the city centre where there is limited parking. There has been a good children's hospital in Temple Street serving the needs of a particular section of the northside community and a limited number of national specialties.

It is difficult to know how joined-up government operates in this framework. Why did the hospital not go out to the Thornton site? It has easy access for parents driving from areas such as Portlaoise, compared to the difficulty of reaching the Mater Hospital site. Are there any Ministers on the Government benches, either within one or other party or between them, who are capable of joined-up Government and action?

Elements of the Bill are good. The Department and the Minister have promised for a long time to improve video-conferencing facilities and it is good to see it happening here. The statutory basis for the Inspector of Prisons is good, although the Minister generally rubbishes the work of the distinguished inspector. The Minister, the man who knows everything, must explain to the House how it is that there are now significant amounts of drugs in prisons which were relatively drug-free when this Government took office. This is true, for example, of Wheatfield, a state-of-the-art, modern prison. What happened in the Minister's governance of the prison system? Something is going seriously wrong. One of the significant and appropriate fears of parents whose children are sentenced to prison is that if their child does not already have a drug problem, he or she will have one by the time they are released.

There are also statistics relating to the number of people incarcerated, briefly, for the most part, for the non-payment of fines. The cost relating to processing such individuals for short stays in prison is really damaging. It is often poorer, working class people who, by and large, opt to go to jail for the non-payment of fines. It may seem easier to them to serve four days, two weeks or whatever in custody than to get together the money to pay fines of €500 or €600. These people do not appreciate that when they are incarcerated, they acquire, for however brief a period, prison records. Statistics show that many people who were originally imprisoned for the non-payment of fines, subsequently end up being reincarcerated for similar or other offences.

For ten years, we have been promised that a fines Bill would be enacted in order to allow fines to be deducted at source. In the past two weeks, the Tánaiste announced that it will be introduced. He did so after serving as Attorney General for five years and as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for another five. One of the key reasons that certain types of people, particularly working class individuals, end up with prison records is because there is no system in place in respect of the payment of fines. In the dying days of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, which has been in office for almost ten years, this matter will, apparently, finally be addressed.

Like much of the other legislation introduced by the Tánaiste, this Bill has undergone an extraordinarily long gestation period. We sometimes hear about Bills for many years and then, at the last minute, they are hurriedly introduced with hundreds of amendments.

I reiterate that the proposal in this Bill to make the Minister a planning authority is an unusual development in Irish law. It is also wrong. The position of rapporteur to receive submissions in respect of the planning process represents phony consultation of the worst kind and, ultimately, it will be challenged in the courts. I expect that the courts will see through it and probably throw it out.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Prisons Bill 2006.

Before commenting on the detail of the legislation, I must deal with two points raised by Deputy Burton. The first of these was her statement that she is surprised that the Tánaiste has taken upon himself the power of a planning authority to grant planning permission in respect of large prison developments. That is not my reading of the legislation. As I understand it, a resolution will be placed before both Houses of the Oireachtas and an Act of the latter will be required. In such circumstances, the Oireachtas and not the Minister of the day will be the planning authority. It might suit the Deputy to personalise matters in respect of the Tánaiste but everyone knows that she is not being accurate and that she is being somewhat mischievous.

The Deputy has also blown out of the water all credibility regarding objections to Thornton Hall by local residents. I was amazed by her comments in this regard. She actually stated that it would have been better to build the children's hospital rather than the prison at Thornton Hall. Let us analyse the logic of her comments. The Deputy is stating that people would have been happy with the children's hospital. In such circumstances, the arguments they made regarding consultation and the assessment, price, zoning and usage of sites would be of no relevance if such a hospital were built on the site.

Such a development would have to go through the planning process.

The Deputy effectively stated that there would be no difficulty if the Government had done everything it did in respect of Thornton Hall and then built a hospital on the site. She is actually saying that the residents have no objections to the entire procedure to date and that they just do not want a prison built near their area. They have no difficulty with sick children but they do not want prisoners. The Deputy has shown up the residents' objections to this development as being shallow. I am stunned that she stated that they would have no problem with the Government locating a large institution at Thornton Hall as long as it is not a prison.

I incurred the wrath of residents from the area in question by being forthright in my statements about this matter at the Committee of Public Accounts. I speak with some authority on this matter because I come from Portlaoise town, in which two prisons are situated. The Deputy indicated that Portlaoise would be a suitable site for another prison. We already have two prisons and have no difficulty in that regard. The residents' fears regarding the prison at Thornton Hall are unfounded. It now transpires that they have no real objections to the procedure, the price, etc., they just do not want prisoners in their area.

I am amazed that the Deputy has blown the cover of the objectors. I have always said that it is simply a case of "not in my back yard" but down in your back yard in Portlaoise would be all right. We do not mind that. I would respect the objectors far more if they came to us, made their submissions and stated, in an honest manner, that they do not want a prison at Thornton Hall. They have not done so and instead have come up with convoluted arguments regarding the process, the price, etc. We now know that they have no objections in respect of the latter and that their only real objection is to the use of the facility as a prison. The Deputy has blown the objectors' cover, undermined and damaged their case and weakened any argument they might have had in respect of this issue.

On planning matters, the Deputy referred to the right of members of the public to object. There are far more rights contained in this legislation in respect of public participation than there are under the existing planning legislation relating to prisons. I am familiar with what happened in Portlaoise in recent years. One can go to the local Garda station and look at a little sketch to see what the outer wall of the prison looks like. That is about as much as one can do under the existing arrangements. We are now putting in place a plethora of procedures such that the system will comply with the highest EU standards. I am sure that the environmental impact statements, etc., will comply fully with what is required under such standards, which is not the case at present.

Deputy Burton also stated that the legislation is unconstitutional because people will not have the right to take their concerns to An Bord Pleanála. She is again talking nonsense. The Deputy was a member of a local authority that on many occasions, under what is now Part 8, approved projects and housing and other local authority developments. Our colleagues on local authorities throughout the country continue to grant such approvals and there is no right of appeal on the part of members of the public to An Bord Pleanála in respect of planning decisions made under that process.

It is a normal feature of local planning matters that once a local authority makes a decision on a project it is sponsoring, there is no right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála. I agree with the Deputy that this is not right but it is not correct to state that it is a new development being introduced in the legislation before us. The fact that it is being discussed in the national Parliament will make the planning process far more rigid than would be the case if it if was being done through a local authority.

Prisons are not matters for local authorities because there are bigger issues involved. The new prison under discussion will serve the greater Dublin area and, in that context, the decision in respect of it should not be left to a local planning officer. I am pleased that responsibility in this regard is being bestowed upon the House. They are just a few observations regarding some of the comments made in recent minutes.

I am happy to discuss certain aspects of the Bill. I have reservations in respect of some of them, however, especially the contracting out by the Minister of the prisoner escort service. I have a fundamental problem with that. The section dealing with financial implications states that in the light of the Prison Officers Association's acceptance of the proposal for changes in work practices last year, it is not intended to outsource prison escort services in the foreseeable future. It further states that, nevertheless, the provision is being made in the event that it is done. It states that the financial implications cannot be quantified at this stage because there are so many variables that may arise when the time comes.

The only variable I want to see when the time comes is the actual cost of providing this service versus the cost of a well-managed prisoner escort service run by the Prison Service. I have no doubt that if the Prison Service ran the prison escort service in an efficient manner, there is no reason it cannot be as cost effective as a contracted out service. If a Minister wants to go down that road, which I hope will not happen, I and other Deputies, if we are still Members, will hold the Minister to account to prove the financial case for outsourcing that service.

Outsourcing may appear cheaper but will it be better? There may be more escapes and more risk to the public. The cash in transit industry has shown itself not to be capable of dealing with these issues. The number of raids recently involving the transport of cash appears to indicate that that industry is less than capable of dealing with the transport of prisoners. If, for argument's sake, we had a bloody-minded Minister who only wanted the cheapest possible option regardless of the outcome, I would say we should examine what it would cost the Prison Service to determine if proper management changes could produce a more efficient service internally.

There is no good reason this service should be outsourced. It is not a matter of principle. It should be a straightforward matter of pragmatism. I spoke earlier on the National Development Finance Agency (Amendment) Bill, the public private partnership Bill, and I see Thornton Hall may come under that process as well. It is not a question of ideology; it is pragmatism. I have no problem with the public or the private sector doing something or a combination of both. Whatever delivers the best service for what is required in the circumstances in an efficient and effective manner to the taxpayer should be the guiding principle.

Other aspects of the Bill concern the establishment of an office of the inspector of prisons, prisoners to participate in certain television links between prisons and courts, disciplinary procedures and the issue of planning provision for the construction of new prisons and extensions to existing prisons. I do not have a problem with that section in the legislation.

Prison officers have a tough job and I would like to make a case on behalf of retired prison officers. I am chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service which has been dealing with the case of retired prison officers who are requesting pensionability of their rent allowance. They have put their case to the Department of Finance, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and our committee. They will put a submission before the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service again tomorrow on that issue.

The case they make is that their rent allowance was more akin to their salary; it was not an allowance. The Department of Finance deliberately muddied the water and did not deal with the specific case in any correspondence between the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and the Department. It broadened the issue to the generality of allowances in the public service, which is not the issue. We have asked the Department to deal with the specific issue of rent allowance. Retired prison officers have made the case to our committee that the rent allowance paid to them was more akin to their basic salary in that it was paid regardless of whether they turned up for work, worked away from or near to home, did or did not pay rent, worked overtime or weekends, or were on sick leave, suspension or whatever. They got the rent allowance once they got their basic pay.

That separates that issue from the broad range of allowances we know were not pensionable prior to allowances generally being made pensionable in the public service. One had to work special hours to achieve all the other allowances. This particular allowance came as of right with one's salary. That is a specific case and it should be examined on that basis.

Regarding the Thornton Hall issue, I ask the officials to check in detail the matter I am about to raise when reviewing the legislation. I have mentioned it already to senior officials in the Department. I have not checked the detail but the officials can check them, and once the Minister is fully aware of it, I would like it to be dealt with because I would not like a loophole in the legislation.

I presume the planning process we are talking about will cover all services necessary for the provision of the development, for example, water, sewerage, electricity and communications by the local authority. I understand from discussions with Fingal County Council to date that the council has established the size of the pipes needed to service the prison, which will be laid on public roadways. I understand they will not have to cross many private lands but Fingal County Council has indicated that for the overall development of the area, it would wish larger pipes and a larger infrastructure to be installed at this stage to encompass the specific services to the prison and other services in the area.

It is important to ensure other services required by the local authority but not strictly necessary for this development are not caught up in a planning dispute. It is also important to avoid a situation where one is unable to make the case that some of the water pipes to the prison, while not necessary for the provision of the prison services, are being provided for the upgrade of water facilities in the region. It may be necessary to lay a separate dedicated pipe specifically to serve the prison rather than have it incorporated in the local authority's piping network because I do not know how it will be separated otherwise.

If this project is to be done under a public private partnership, as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts I ask that everything outside the perimeter of the site be excluded from the PPP contract because there are risks attached to that when dealing with a public road. The PPP people will have a vested interest and financial rights over the prison for the number of years it is leased out. The private company or international bank that finances this should not have any rights over the services in the Fingal area or north Dublin region in terms of water and sewerage or the provision of those services generally in the area. I ask that a separate contract, as is the case in the normal tendering process, be agreed to deal with services outside the site.

We had a PPP process in Portlaoise recently for schools and the Department of Education and Science rightly said that the contractors who tendered were only responsible for matters within the boundary of the site and any other services required would be provided by the Department and the local authority in the normal manner. I ask that to be done in this case as well.

I welcome the establishment of the office of the inspector of prisons but that should not undermine the excellent work being carried out by the excellent visiting committees in all prisons. Most of the members of those committees are close to the prisons. They have a good understanding, background and competence and have increased their experience. The visiting committees do much work and I would like to see the inspector's reports being made available for discussion in a proper manner by the visiting committees. I am aware these reports will be provided to the Minister who will be required to lay them before the Dáil.

Debate adjourned.