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McDowell fails to account for massive overspend on Thornton Hall

3 October, 2006

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said Justice Minister Michael McDowell has failed to account for inconsistencies between his assertion, that the purchase of the Thornton Hall prison site for €199,000 per acre was good value, and the Comptroller and Auditor General's report which concludes that it was not.

Addressing Minister McDowell in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Your propaganda document states "Each site was assessed on the basis of a marking matrix addressing all the essential criteria. On the basis of this objective marking system the least expensive, most suitable site was selected". However, the Comptroller & Auditor General report states "The Committee did not record the basis on which scores were awarded to individual sites under the various criteria" and "the marks awarded by the Site Selection Committee appear to be inconsistent". Also, according to the Comptroller & Auditor General report the Site Selection Committee dropped the criteria of 'cost' after receiving a letter from the Director General of the Prison Service in September 2004 so from then on 'cost' was not a consideration.

"The site at Thornton was purchased by your department for €199,999 per acre. Your dodgy dossier states "At less than €200,000 per acre, the site at Thornton represented good value". By stark contrast the Comptroller & Auditor General found that the purchase did not represent good value. Rather its report states "The price paid for the site at Thornton is likely to have been at least twice the market price at the time for well-positioned agricultural land with development potential in the target area". In March 2005, a 238-acre site situated ten miles from the city centre, thereby matching the Minister's own distance criteria, was sold for €26,000 per acre at public auction an eighth of the price paid for Thornton Hall.

"Your financially wasteful approach to the purchase of this site is mirrored in your approach to criminal justice generally. Big prisons, like that planned for Thornton, nurture gang cultures which translates into greater gangland crime outside prisons. They also tend to be characterised by more repressive prison regimes involving a reduced focus on rehabilitation. This leads to greater institutionalisation which inhibits reintegration into law abiding society upon release which in turn increases re-offending thereby adding to already spiralling prison spending."

In responding to Deputy Ó Snodaigh Minister McDowell failed to account for the differences between his department's public information document and the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and he challenged all Deputies to name a site within ten miles of Dublin that cost less than that paid for Thornton Hall. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "There are three within your own propaganda document." ENDS

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