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Thornton Prison deal stinks to high heavens

29 September, 2005

Speaking during the Private Members motion on the purchase of land for a new prison in north Dublin, at Thornton Hall, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said that the deal 'stinks to high heavens'. Deputy Ó Snodaigh also revealed that he had written to the Public Accounts Committee calling for a full investigation in to the deal as far back as March.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Sinn Fein supports the private members motion tabled by Fine Gael. In fact, as far back as last March I wrote to Deputy Michael Noonan chair of the Oireactas Public Accounts Committee recommending an investigation into the agreed purchase of Thornton Hall.

"In February of this year the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was asked the basis on which a decision was made to locate the new prison at Thornton. He responded to the effect that advertisements were placed in the national media requesting persons to come forward with proposals for potentially suitable sites and the Committee considered the offers that came forward. The Minister failed to mention that, according to a letter from the landowner to local residents, it was representatives of Government that approached him wishing to make an offer on his farm and stating that he had never at any time considered putting the property on the market. He had not actually engaged in the tendering process as outlined by the Minister. It would appear that the Committee considered the offers resulting from the national advertisements plus Thornton.

"Having considered the numerous concerns raised by the local community and having considered the Ministers answers to questions that have been put to him in this Dail, it is my opinion that the Comptroller and Auditor general should conduct a thorough investigation into the matter and produce a written report for consideration by the Oireachtas. And this should be completed prior to the closure of the deal, before anymore tax payer's money is wasted.

"The concerns on which my opinion is based include: Thornton Hall did not meet the criteria set down by the Expert Group; it was introduced after the published closing date; it was evaluated in isolation and processed with extreme haste; it was purchased for 6 times the market value; the decision to purchase was based on incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information; no environmental impact study was undertaken; the selection criteria used were not 'clear and objective'; the Committee's Advisor overstepped his remit and; there are very serious concerns around a possible conflict of interest and collusion - this relates to the Committee‚s Advisor who is a relative of Senator Joe O‚Toole and Senator Joe O‚Toole‚s close connection with the landowner and the Senator's presence at negotiations himself. Also, is it not odd that the Advisor in question was a guest at the Fianna Fail fundraising tent at the Galway races?

"So there you have it. An expert committee spends a year in deliberation - then throws out all the sites it had considered, overrules its own previous decision and opts for a new site - all at one meeting!

"I stand by my previous assertion that the manner in which Thornton was chosen stinks to high heaven in fact I would go so far as to suggest it may have been corrupt." ENDS

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