29 September 2005

Protesters urge audit of prison site

Irish Examiner

By John Breslin
29 September 2005

CAMPAIGNERS yesterday urged Government backbenchers to show courage and vote for an audit of the €30 million purchase of farmland as a site for a new super-prison or face “years of tribunals”.
Campaigners fighting against the plan to build the prison and a new Central Mental Hospital on 150 acres in north Co Dublin warned that if it goes ahead, “investigations and tribunals” will follow.

“We know something very wrong has happened,” said Teresa McDonnell, who lives close to Thornton Hall, where it is proposed to build the 1,000-inmate replacement for Mountjoy.

Protestors were joined by opposition leaders, Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte and Socialist Joe Higgins, at a rally yesterday outside Leinster House. Dozens of people, mostly residents, gathered in the rain with one message: “Stop it now.”

Deputies debated last night a motion calling on the Comptroller and Auditor General to investigate the land purchase.

A vote is due to take place today. While protestors expect the Government benches to vote against the motion, Ms McDonnell said the residents are attempting to save the State close to €24m, the purchase price minus the e6m actual value of the land.

The Government is believed to have paid a deposit but the deal has not been closed.

“If they hear what we have to say, and based on that information, we feel they would have no option but to wait for the auditor to report,” Ms McDonnell said.

Those living in the area around the townlands of Rolestown and St Margaret’s have questioned how those making the decision “could get it so wrong” in recommending farmland in the centre of a close-knit rural community.

Access to the land is down a narrow country road, there is no public lighting, no footpaths or mains sewerage, while the closest public transport is over a kilometre away.

A Mountjoy Replacement Site Committee was set up to find land for the prison and received 31 submissions. The seven-person committee first met in July and by late November had picked a site at Coolquay in north Co Dublin, between the N2 and M50, for a price of €31.25m.

At the next and last meeting, attended by just five of the seven committee members, adviser Ronan Webster revealed the vendor had pulled out but had since been in contact to say he was still interested in selling.

It was only at that point Thornton Hall emerged as a candidate.

The terse committee minutes reveal that, after a short discussion, it was decided to recommend buying the site at just under €200,000 an acre.

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