Thursday, 29 January 2004

Questions (65, 66)

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

58 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans in respect of the threatened closure of Spike Island Prison; if a closure is proposed, the cost savings which will be achieved by such a closure in view of the beneficial and rehabilitative work carried out by both prison staff and VEC staff at the said institution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30711/03]

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Kathleen Lynch

Question:

75 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in light of the ongoing negotiations between the Irish Prison Service and the Prison Officers' Association and the proposed temporary closure of Fort Mitchel Prison, he is still committed to his earlier statement of 11 November 2003, to reopen Fort Mitchel Prison in the event of the above negotiations being successfully resolved; and if he will give a commitment that the reopening of Fort Mitchel Prison will take immediate effect upon the resolution of the current dispute. [1567/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 75 together.

On 11 November 2003, the Government decided to implement a number of measures to reduce prison operating costs with effect from 1 January 2004, in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association on the proposed change agenda, aimed at eliminating overtime and reducing costs. These measures included the temporary closure of the Curragh and Fort Mitchel Places of Detention.

The Curragh Place of Detention closed on 20 January and Fort Mitchel will close on 10 February 2004, if there is no agreement with the Prison Officers' Association by that date. I have already made it clear on several occasions that I fully appreciate the good work being done at Fort Mitchel and other prison institutions scheduled for closure. I personally do not want to close those institutions but, if the Prison Officers' Association is unwilling to agree reasonable terms to operate them on an economically sustainable basis, it is a course I reluctantly have to pursue. I have also indicated that if such agreement is forthcoming from the Prison Officers' Association, prison closures could yet be cancelled or reversed.

Closure of Fort Mitchel Place of Detention would yield significant savings by facilitating the transfer of prison staff to Cork and Limerick Prisons to perform work which is currently done on an overtime basis. In addition, savings would arise from non-payment of the allowance which is paid to staff for working on the island; non-operation of the daily ferry to the island; and elimination of the above average general costs associated with operating an island facility.