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Members of the Oireachtas, Members of the Judiciary, Inspector of Prisons, Bishop of Cork & Distinguished Guests.
I am delighted to officially open the new Cork Prison today. Although the prison has been fully operational since 12 February this year, it is important that we formally acknowledge this achievement. It is a fine and progressive addition to the prison estate. Its facilities are a significant improvement on what was available in the old Cork prison and will greatly enhance the lives of staff and prisoners alike.
Construction of the Prison
At a cost of €44 million, this project was jointly funded by direct Exchequer funding and a loan, obtained at a very favourable rate, from the Council of Europe Development Bank. The loan was arranged through the National Treasury Management Agency and I want to record my appreciation of all concerned in facilitating the loan.
For such a major piece of public infrastructure to have been provided so expeditiously and substantially within budget is a remarkable achievement.
For that I would like to thank retired Governor Jim Collins along with the other members of the Irish Prison Service’s Project Team led by Ciarán Nevin, the project construction company P.J. Hegarty & Sons and Sweett Group, the Project Management Consultants for the speed, professionalism and dedication with which they delivered this project.
Transfer of Prisoners
Construction work commenced in late February 2014 and practical completion was achieved in October 2015. In a very carefully planned operation, under the Guidance of Governor Pat Dawson, the prison became fully operational on the 12th February. In a quite remarkable logistical exercise the former prison was closed and this one opened on the same day. It is thought to be the first time in the world that an operational prison was closed and its prisoners and staff transferred to a new facility in a single day.
Quality of the Facilities
Earlier today, I had an opportunity to walk around the new and former prisons. Apart from the improved accommodation and dining facilities, I was struck by the scale, quality and innovation behind some of the features of the new prison in terms of how it can serve its purpose of rehabilitating offenders.
The new prison has a completely new type of visiting facility which provides a welcoming and comfortable environment, in so far as is possible in a prison setting. The new facility, the first of its kind in the prison estate, recognises the importance of maintaining and, if at all possible, developing the relationships between offenders and family on the outside.
In particular, I noted the excellent educational facilities. These are far advanced from what was available in the former prison and represent a new departure in providing for prisoner’s educational needs. The new work and training facilities also impress. They include a state-of the art kitchen, bakery and laundry. And the recreation facilities for prisoners and staff are exemplary.
I am especially pleased to note the inclusion of a horticultural training area. That is something completely new for prisoners in Cork. The former prison had no green space at all and no outdoor training facilities. Again, it represents a small but real example of the Government’s commitment to the care of prisoners and I am particularly proud that such a fine development has been provided at a time when resources were quite constrained.
All of these new facilities will serve prisoners here well in learning new skills that will assist them in reintegrating into the workforce when their sentence has been served.
History of this Site
Rathmore Road here in Cork has a very long association with detention facilities. The former Cork prison, located just across the road from us here, was opened in 1806 as a British military barracks and it included a military detention barracks. The complex was known simply as “The Barracks”.
In 1849 it was renamed “Victoria Barracks” in honour of a visit by Queen Victoria. Following Irish Independence in 1922 it continued to serve as a military detention barracks within the complex that was later to be named “Collins Barracks”. On the 28th June 1963 it was visited by President John F. Kennedy.
In 1972 the detention barracks of Collin’s Barracks was transferred to the ownership of the Department of Justice where after it became a civilian remand prison in 1973. In 1983 it became a full committal prison and remained so until earlier this year.
The purpose of that little detour is to show that the prison system is a constantly evolving entity. While a great deal of progress has been made in improving prison facilities in recent years, we are not yet finished.
Upgrading our Prison Estate
I truly believe that we must challenge our thinking in terms of how we accommodate prisoners in the future. I am firmly of the view that all future prison developments and refurbishments must be designed so as to look ahead to future trends in prison operations and outcomes in other jurisdictions. That is how we can best ensure that we achieve the optimum blend of normalisation and rehabilitation in addition to providing security for our community.
Keeping our communities safe
The prison system plays a vital and important role in keeping our communities safe. We have a responsibility to ensure that crime does not pay and criminality is punished. At the same time prisons must never become universities of criminality so a focus on rehabilitation and actions to reduce recidivism must also be at the forefront of our thinking.
The Government is determined to face down the threats posed by criminals. The week the Criminal Justice Proceeds of Crime Bill should pass all stages of the Oireachtas. This new legislation will go after the proceeds of organised crime. I have secured an additional 55m to ensure that the Gardaí have all the resources to tackle the scourge of gangland crime and to support Operation Thor which is succeeding is brining down burglary rates.
Eliminating Slopping Out
This Government, and indeed the last, has committed significant resources to the improvement of the prison estate. In keeping with our commitment to eliminate slopping out, the focus of capital investment in prisons has been weighted towards achieving that goal.
On the 27th June last, I launched the Irish Prison Service’s Capital Strategy 2016-2021. This ambitious programme will see the complete replacement of the outdated accommodation in Limerick and Portlaoise prisons as well as improvements across a number of other prisons. I’m proud to say that, on completion of the Limerick and Portlaoise projects, we will have completely eliminated “slopping out” across the prisons estate, a practise long condemned by the CPT, the Inspector of Prisons and many others.
Facilities for Female Prisoners
I am aware that the facilities for female prisoners in Limerick prison are outdated and do not meet the standards of accommodation or rehabilitation facilities that I think we should strive to achieve.
So I am delighted to learn from the Director General, Michael Donnellan that the planned development in Limerick will include a new facility for 58 female prisoners. This will be a model of its kind and that will incorporate as many aspects of modern prison design as is feasible. I am also heartened to know that plans are well advanced for a significant upgrade to the Dochas Centre - the women’s prison within the Mountjoy Prison Complex.
Vision for the Future of the Irish Prison Service
I am confident that when I look to the future of the Irish Prison Service, I can see it continuing to press ahead with its mission to be a modern, progressive, rehabilitative body that is readily responsive to change and is both aware of and committed to the need to be adaptable to new challenges as they emerge.
In conclusion, I must also record my thanks to staff of Cork prison – past and present – for their cooperation and support in bringing this prison to reality. It is commitment and dedication like theirs that makes the Irish prison Service what it is today.
And now, without any further ado I wish to declare this prison officially open.
Go raibh Maith agaibh go leir.