Development of Cork Prison: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:


— that the Minister for Justice and Equality, having considered the need for a new prison in the Cork area, has decided to proceed with the development of a prison on a portion of the site used as Cork Prison, in the townland of Rathmore and city of Cork;

— that the Minister for Justice and Equality has caused the documents specified in section 26(2) of the Prisons Act 2007 (No. 10 of 2007) relating to the development of a prison to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas together with a document containing the observations of that Minister on the environmental impact assessment and the report of the rapporteur;

— that the proposed development relates to the construction of a prison:

(a) located on a portion of the site used as Cork Prison, in the townland of Rathmore and city of Cork;

(b) for the purpose of accommodating approximately 300 prisoners;

(c) which shall consist of buildings of a floor area of approximately 15,000 square metres within a site of approximately 2.64 hectares;

(d) the secure facilities within which shall be bounded by a perimeter wall approximately 7.2 metres in height; and

(e) which shall consist of buildings with a height of one, two and three storeys;

— that the following alteration having been made by the Minister for Justice and Equality to the development, in accordance with section 25 of the Prisons Act 2007 (No. 10 of 2007), in order to mitigate its visual impact:

— the reduction of the height of the perimeter wall forming the eastern, western and northern boundaries of the horticultural area at the northern end of the site to approximately 5.2 metres;

— that an environmental impact assessment was prepared with respect to the proposed development;

— that the Minister for Justice and Equality invited submissions or observations relating to the development of the prison from members of the public:

(a) by means of advertisements placed:

(i) in the following national publication on 8 November 2012:

The Irish Examiner; and

(ii) in the following local publication on 8 November 2012:

The Evening Echo;

(b) by the erection of site notices at two locations on the perimeter of the site; and

(c) by causing an announcement of the proposed development to be published:

(i) on the website of the Irish Prison Service; and

(ii) on the website of the Department of Justice and Equality;

— that the proposed development will not have any significant effect on any European Site, within the meaning of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 477 of 2011);

— that the main measures taken to avoid, reduce or offset any possible significant adverse effects of the development on the environment are:

(a) the use of visually conditioned concrete with a light-coloured finish on the sections of the perimeter wall most visible to the public;

(b) the implementation of a traffic management plan as part of the construction environmental management plan;

(c) the mitigation of light impact by the use of low-level lighting and lighting cowls and the directing of all security lighting, other than the lighting in the area between the perimeter wall and the outer fence, inwards and away from residential property in the area of the prison boundary;

(d) the application of sustainable urban drainage design system principles to the site with the aim of ensuring that the surface water run off rate shall not exceed existing site greenfield rates;

(e) restrictions on the CCTV system to ensure that it is not used in a manner that facilitates viewing into neighbouring residential property;

(f) the use of obscured glazing in all windows overlooking neighbouring residential property;

(g) the mitigation of noise and dust by the construction of the perimeter wall before commencement of the construction of the prison buildings;


(h) appropriate landscaping of the entrance and car park areas;

— that a visual representation of the exterior of the completed development appears at the end of this resolution;

— that the conditions relating to the construction of the new prison to be complied with by the principal building contractor or developer engaged by the Minister are:

(a) that the development shall not vary in any material way from that outlined in the environmental impact assessment and the visual representations of the exterior of the completed development as laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas;

(b) that the construction schedule shall give priority to the construction of the perimeter wall in order to minimise the impact of construction within that perimeter on persons residing in the local community;

(c) that construction shall not commence until a construction environmental management plan has been drawn up by the principal contractor and approved by the Irish Prison Service and implemented in keeping with best practice and in particular the construction phase mitigation and other measures specified in sections 3.2, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8 and 3.11 of the environmental impact assessment shall be adhered to by the body or bodies contractually responsible for the construction of the development including any subcontractors;

(d) that normal construction and excavation work shall only take place between 08.00 hours and 19.00 hours Monday to Friday and between 08.30 hours and 16.30 hours on Saturdays, with no such work taking place on Sundays or public holidays;

(e) that an extensive programme of vermin eradication on the site and its environs shall be undertaken in the weeks immediately before the commencement of the works; and

(f) that appropriate noise, vibration and dust monitoring shall be undertaken throughout the construction period;


resolves to approve the development of the said prison in the townland of Rathmore and city of Cork.

The existing prison in Cork, whose main cell block dates from the early 19th 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, 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 at 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 provide a modem 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 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, which sets out a special procedure that may be applied to major prison developments. Part 4 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 m.

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 m 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.

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 on Wednesday, 12 June. All parties are represented on the committee and I understand that many of the committee members have 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 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.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this and I thank the Whips for affording us the opportunity to debate it. We welcome the principle of building a new prison in Cork given that, as highlighted by many organisations, the conditions were inhumane and inadequate for the prison population. Clearly those conditions go against what we are trying to do with regard to prisoner education so that they can come back into the community rehabilitated. Overcrowding and slopping out is completely unacceptable in this day and age, and it has been condemned on numerous occasions. That is not to take away from the efforts staff have made in trying to deal with this, but the numbers of prisoners going through Cork Prison makes a mockery of what we are trying to achieve in terms of having decent dignified accommodation for prisoners, regardless of the reasons for their incarceration, so that when they come out they can make a contribution to broader society. I welcome the commitment to this development.

Of course, it is still proposed to have double occupancy cells, which should be revisited. While I understand there are extreme pressures on finances, every effort should be made to try to accommodate prisoners in single occupancy cells where practicable. The development of this prison on Rathmore Road in Cork should include at least some single occupancy cells.

Having been there and having met many families, I recognise it is critical to have proper visiting facilities for families visiting loved ones in prison. An element of dignity and respect needs to be afforded to people when they go into prisons. While I understand the need for security and I support every measure to ensure drugs and contraband are not smuggled in by family members and people visiting prisoners, with technological advances in surveillance, etc. it should be possible to allow visiting in a dignified and human manner.

The record should be put straight. The Deputy said he was there himself. While I know he means-----

Purely in my capacity as a visitor.

----- it was as a visitor, it is important to state that for the record in case somebody misinterprets.

At times I feel I might have more freedom in there than I have in here. Residents have made submissions to the rapporteur and there have been broader consultations with the community. There is already a prison on the Rathmore Road with military barracks adjoining it. Any development must take into account the impact it will have on residents, including during the construction phase. It will be a large construction site for many years. As construction is set to commence in 2013 and end in 2016, there could be three years of heavy construction work in a residential area. I urge the Minister to use his good offices to ensure there is a good-neighbour policy and the liaison officer genuinely engages with the local residents, the local authority and An Garda Síochána to ensure there is a proper traffic management system and that other issues of concern are dealt with during construction. I understand the pressures on contractors when building, including working late hours etc., but they need to be cognisant that this is located in a residential community. The structure will have an impact on residents in Brandon Crescent and elsewhere and I hope the liaison officer and the good-neighbour policy will work efficiently to ensure the needs of residents are met to the greatest possible extent while constructing a facility that is necessary to ensure prisoners have an element of dignity while incarcerated.

We do not oppose the motion and the confirming Bill under Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007. We understand the need for security. When people are talking about prisons, all we can talk about are the outer cordons as such being aesthetically attractive and not excessively impacting on neighbourhoods and communities. For all those reasons, I urge the Minister to do what he can to ensure it is seen as a positive development for those serving time in prison and for family members visiting them. We do not place sufficient emphasis on that critical aspect. At the end of the day, many families are heartbroken to have a loved one incarcerated in prison and often they blame themselves. The dignity and respect for families visiting prisoners must be included in this plan, accepting the need for security.

We had an opportunity to have an initial discussion on the motion at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality last week. As I pointed out then, I was part of the committee delegation that visited Cork Prison last year. The governor made it clear from the outset that the prison is not up to standard and does not comply with the requirements of a civilised society. When people are in prison, we want to rehabilitate them and have the environment that allows that to happen. On that basis, the new prison is welcome and the sooner it is built, the better.

However, since last week's committee meeting there has been very strong criticism from the Irish Penal Reform Trust and individuals such as Fr. Peter McVerry about the proposal for shared cells. It is very welcome that slopping out will cease. At the moment almost all the cells in Cork Prison require slopping out, which is a very demeaning practice. However, the practical difficulties with shared cells are obviously that somebody has to use the toilet in front of another human being. If we are trying to rehabilitate prisoners and take them away from the life they had led to being fully equipped to act as a participating citizen, having to use a toilet in front of another person is a bad way to start.

There are also issues with prisoners trying to come off drugs. Unfortunately, many people who have been imprisoned are addicted to drugs. A prisoner may be in a cell with another who is not coming off drugs. There are practical reasons and also reasons of dignity for moving away from multiple occupancy cells. Sinn Féin wants to support the motion but before wrapping up the debate, I want the Minister to give an assurance that he will do everything to look at those plans again and see if amendments can be made because we want to move forward. The redevelopment of Mountjoy Prison has been very welcome and it now has single occupancy cells. Already apparently the impact has been extremely positive.

Our committee prepared the penal reform report which has been submitted to the Minister for consideration. It is an excellent report completed by our rapporteur, Senator Bacik, and agreed unanimously. It contains a vision for decarceration with a target of reducing prisoner numbers by a third.

The report includes looking at community service, restorative justice and alternatives to imprisonment for people who are convicted of minor offences. Naturally, there is a need for people who are a threat to society and who are violent to continue to be imprisoned. We need to see a tailored plan for prisoners and to have an exit strategy for people when they are imprisoned that will take them through the process and that will ensure they are genuinely rehabilitated.

We examined other issues. At the moment if a man is in prison and if he keeps his head down and does not engage in any real reform of himself as a person he will get 25% remission almost automatically. The sub-committee on penal reform has argued that there should be tangible rehabilitation on a tailor-made basis with a personal plan. In response the incentive could be one third remission for prisoners within the system.

We want to see value for money. We are paying approximately €65,000 for every prisoner locked up each year. It is costing us a fortune and the long-term benefits are not evident.

The five-point plan from the sub-committee, which was an all-party proposal given to the Minister, is a real template for progress. I urge the Minister in that spirit to examine the plans for the prison in Cork again. Let us move on as we mean to go along. We want to rehabilitate prisoners. In 2013, in what we hope is a civilised State, is it really appropriate that people have to use the toilet in front of others? It is altogether demeaning and totally unacceptable for what is a new prison being built here and now. I urge the Minister to address the concerns of the brilliant people who work in partnership with us, including Fr. Peter McVerry and those in the Irish Penal Reform Trust, who we all respect in the House as making a constructive contribution to penal reform the State.

It is not about easy solutions for people who find themselves in crime. This is not about easy alternatives but hard ones. I recognise that the Minister is enthusiastic about restorative justice. When a person must stand in front of his victims and take ownership of what he has done and do the right thing and when a person has to do community service in his community for what are not serious crimes but crimes nonetheless, it is a case of painful and difficult choices, but they cost the taxpayer less and we get a better result. In the context of penal reform and of a new vision for how we run our criminal justice system and our prisons, let us progress on the right basis. I appeal to Minister to do everything he can to address the issue of double occupancy. The Minister should also reassure the NGOs with whom we are partners in this regard and he should do so today.

I wish to share time with Deputy Wallace. There is much that is positive in this development but there is a "but". It relates to the number of reports, rules and recommendations relating to single-cell occupancy. European prison rule 18.1 on accommodation states that it "shall respect human dignity and, as far as possible, privacy, and meet the requirements of health and hygiene". It further states that prisoners "shall normally be accommodated during the night in individual cells except where it is preferable for them to share sleeping accommodation" and that if they are sharing it should be with prisoners who are suitable to each other.

The Whitaker report from 1985 is critical of our penal system. The report set out basic living conditions and states, "Normally (and always where a prisoner so desires) private sleeping accommodation in a single cell" should be provided. In 1985 almost all prisoners were in single cells but today some 60% of prisoners are sharing cells. The former governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan, also stressed the importance of single-cell accommodation and the need for personal space. In 1994 the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform referred to providing additional places to eliminate doubling up.

When the Minister announced the plan for this prison he said it would eliminate the practice of prisoners having to slop out. He also make a point about adequate and suitable accommodation. That was taken to mean that there would be a commitment to single-cell accommodation, which equates to international best practice.

Allied to single-cell occupancy is the issue of personal hygiene. It is welcome that the new building will mean an end to slopping out in the prison in Cork because of in-cell sanitation. However unless the section is walled off there will be no privacy when it comes to using the toilet. I understand that people are in prison because they have done wrong and we are not suggesting hotel accommodation, but it is an insult to human dignity to expect a person to use the toilet in front of another person. In November 2011 the Minister reported that there were 1,885 prisoners using the toilet in the presence of others. We do not carry out normal human activities such as eating, studying, reading and watching television in the same place as we use the toilet.

Sharing creates other problems, including an increase in violence and intimidation. I am heartbroken when I see young men from Dublin 1 and Dublin 7, who contribute greatly to the prison population, go in drug-free but come out addicted to drugs because of who they had to share cells with. I share the concerns of those in the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and their disappointment that this plan includes provision for doubling up. They see it as a retrograde step and a breach of international best practice.

We are all familiar with the fact that John Lonergan and Peter McVerry have been consistent in letting us know that the majority of people in prisons come from a small number of disadvantaged communities. Most of those who experience poverty and deprivation do not turn to crime, but I suggest that if we are serious about reducing crime then the social deprivation and addiction problems that underlie much criminal behaviour is a good place to start. Likewise to reduce crime, the focus of imprisonment should be on rehabilitation given that the statistics indicate that one in two leaving prison will be back within four years.

There is no doubt that the conditions will be far better than they were, as the Minister has stated. Nevertheless, it is concerning that people such as those in the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice have challenged the Minister's claim that the prison would provide adequate and suitable accommodation for all prisoners. They have pointed out that a failure to provide single-cell accommodation in the new prison will be in direct breach of article 18.5 of the European prison rules drawn up by the Council of Europe, of which Ireland is a founding member state. This cannot be considered to be in accordance with international best practice. Fr. McVerry has said that cell sharing should not be the norm in prison and that in many cases it results in increased intimidation and violence and leads to non-drug users being introduced to drug use. He has further noted that even without such extreme consequences enforced sharing can represent a cramped and oppressive living environment, especially in light of the fact that in Ireland out-of-cell time is at best between six or seven hours per day. Fr. McVerry has pointed out that things have improved. For example, the atmosphere in Mountjoy Prison has improved dramatically since it has moved to single occupancy and that has made a significant difference.

Mr. Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust hit the nail on head when he said that instead of increasing capacity at Cork Prison we need what he has described as an "increased use of rigorous community-based alternatives, investment in probation and community services, an overall reduction of the use of imprisonment for less serious offences, and better reintegration supports before and after release to support a reduction in re-offending". For those interested in how prisons work I recommend a documentary just launched by Eugene Jarecki called "The House I Live In". It is described as a deep look inside America's criminal justice system and it is fascinating and educational.

I thank those who are supportive of this development. I note Deputy Kelleher's comments about conditions being inhumane and inadequate and that there is a need for proper visiting facilities and a need for dignity and respect for persons visiting prisons. Of course, for 14 years his party was in government and ignored Cork Prison. The conditions there were a disgrace when I visited it.

That is not true.

I have the height of respect for the prison officers and the governor working there. They are doing an extraordinary job in difficult circumstances. In circumstances where we have little funding available to us, I managed to secure funding to effectively replace the existing prison because in its current form, occupied by persons sentenced, there is nothing we can do with it. It is our objective to provide a better and modern prison facility. It will have full family-friendly visiting facilities. The development must take account of the impact the building will have on residents in the area, which is why the outer perimeter wall is to be constructed first so as to try to delimit the impact on those residing in the area.

We have a prison already in Cork. The new prison is being built essentially adjacent to the existing prison and there will be greater security provision for those who are there.

In an ideal world I would like a prison to be constructed which provided only for single-cell occupancy. The problem is that the perfect is the enemy of the possible. It was little short of a miracle that I was able to secure funding for the construction of the prison in current financial circumstances. The funding was secured because of my view as to the complete inadequacy of the current facility. There will be in-cell sanitation, which is important. The construction of the prison will provide for a modern facility with all of the additional, necessary facilities that come with that to try to contribute to the well-being of prisoners and to reduce recidivism.

The construction of the prison in Cork is not a be-all and end-all by any stretch of the imagination. It is part of my objective that we adopt a different approach in dealing with prisoners. I accept what some Deputies have said, namely, that we should try to bring about a reduction in the number of the prison population while at the same time ensure that people who are sentenced properly serve those sentences and that the public is not put at risk. If a prisoner was to be released early and there is a serious incident because a misjudgement has been made, Deputies on the Opposition side of the House will jump up and down to lay the blame for that event when it occurs.

What we require in this area is a comprehensive approach. We need an approach which involves looking at a whole range of alternative disposals for dealing with prisoners. We are adapting our prison policies in those areas. We now have a scheme whereby prisoners serving medium-range sentences who pose no risk to the community, who have behaved well in prison and are willing to engage in community service, are taking up community service and being released early to the benefit of the community, saving money for taxpayers and relieving the pressure on the prison system. That was something we introduced.

This is a very important development. It is very important that we improve our prison facilities. It is of crucial importance that we change the approach adopted in years gone by which has produced far too great a number returning to criminality within a relatively short period of being released from prison terms.

We must continue to deal with the issue of drugs. In the context of the changes that have been made in the past two years, far fewer drugs are getting within the prison system. The new prison is specifically designed to try to ensure that the problem does not develop with a new prison system. This is a very important development in the right direction.

I have the greatest respect for the Irish Penal Reform Trust and for Fr. McVerry and the work he does but in the context of the numbers with which we currently deal it was a question of either building this prison, a modern, new facility with in-cell sanitation, or alternatively the funding would not be available for something practically double the size if we were to provide exclusively for single-cell occupancy. This prison does envisage single-cell occupancy for some prisoners as part of the prison plan. In the context of the continuing development of prison policy, looking at alternative ways of dealing with prisoners in the context of the community service amendment legislation that we passed in 2012 - the District Court uses it to a greater extent so instead of prisoners being sentenced to short periods in prison they are doing community service - we can constructively reduce numbers while ensuring that there is a consequence of relevance to those who engage in criminality. We can also reduce our expenditure on the prison system by diverting individuals into community service who can contribute to the community in a beneficial way. Of course there is a role for restorative justice, a range of different mechanisms are available.

The directors of the Prison Service and of the Probation Service are working very carefully together. There is a joint policy plan to bring about huge reform and change in ethos and approach, to provide a comprehensive approach to reduce recidivism and to provide better opportunities for those who are in prison so as to ensure when they leave prison that there is a different life open to them to that which resulted in them being sentenced in the first place. The construction of the prison in Cork is just one brick in the wall of the policies we are implementing to humanise our penal system and penal policy.

A Cheann Comhairle, could I ask one question? It is pertinent to whether we can support the motion.

I am sorry-----

I promise that it is only one brief question. It will take ten seconds. Of the 275 prison spaces, what number are single-cell occupancy?

Off the top of my head from the plans, approximately 30 cells are intended and designed for single-cell occupancy. They will deal with the type of issue which Deputy Wallace or Deputy O’Sullivan raised about an individual who might be drug-addicted who needs to come off drugs and to provide for single-cell occupancy in those circumstances or other circumstances where that might be necessary. For example, one might have a prisoner on protection or in need of protection. If we reduce the number of prisoners, what are currently designed as double-occupancy cells might in future become single-occupancy cells. What has been achieved in Mountjoy Prison in the past two years is extraordinary. When I came into office the belief was that one could not provide in-cell sanitation in Mountjoy and that one could not provide for the huge amount of restoration and change that has occurred. A revolution is taking place within that prison to the benefit not just simply of prisoners but of the wider community as well.

With all the miracles, the next thing the Minister will be turning water into wine.

Question put and agreed to.