Cost of bridge may scupper Spike Island 'super prison'

Michael McDowell's proposed site may be abandoned in favour of one in north Cork. By Frank Connolly


A  proposal by Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to build a ‘super-prison' at Spike Island may be shelved after it emerged that the cost of constructing a new bridge to the facility in Cork harbour could prove excessive. Another site at Kilworth in north Cork has now been identified as a possible suitable location for a prison.

It has been estimated that the cost of a new bridge to Spike Island would exceed €20m and the overall costs of construction could exceed €100m if the plan were to proceed.

Michael McDowell told the Prison Officers' Association conference in May 2006 that he intended to proceed with the construction of a new prison with a capacity for 450 inmates on Spike Island.

The former jail on Spike Island, with a capacity for 80 prisoners, could only be accessed by ferry and was closed in 2004. Since then, Cork Prison has seen its numbers rise to 280 although the jail only has an official capacity for 150 prisoners. Prisoners are now held two to a cell and prison officers have complained for years that sanitary conditions, which include the practice of ‘slopping out' (disposing of human waste), are appalling.

The Prison Service has confirmed that while the Spike Island project is still on course, it has recently examined a site owned by the department of defence at Kilworth in north Cork, between the towns of Fermoy and Mitchelstown.

It is believed that the cabinet has approved, in principle, the construction of a 450-inmate facility on the lands at Lynch camp where the southern brigade of the Defence Forces owns 3,000 acres, used for training purposes.

If the site is acceptable to government, a new jail including playing pitches and detention blocks will be built on 300 acres. The army will retain use of the remaining lands.
“We are still examining Kilworth but a decision will have to be made soon as we were hoping to place tenders for the bridge to Spike Island early in the new year,” a spokesman for the Prison Service told Village. He said he could not comment on the likely cost of construction of either the Spike Island or Kilworth facilities.

Following the controversy in 2006 when it emerged that the department of justice and the Prison Service had paid up to eight times the market value for lands at Thornton Hall in north Dublin for a 1,000-inmate prison facility, the issue of costs has put the plans for the Spike Island super-prison under greater scrutiny.

According to Green Party TD Dan Boyle there is also considerable local opposition to the redevelopment of Spike Island as a jail while there has been little expressed opposition in north Cork to a proposed new jail at Kilworth.

“There is considerable opposition to the proposed super-prison at Spike Island and the issue of costs has not fully been explored. There is not the same opposition in north Cork to the Kilworth site. The cost of building a new bridge, at more than €20m, to Spike Island does not appear to be justified given the limited use for it. It seems that the minister's grand plan may have to be reconsidered,” the Cork TD said.

The Kilworth site lies between the Corbett Court pub and the Glocca Maura Inn at a scenic spot on the western side of the N8 between Fermoy and Mitchelstown.
In October 2005 the chairman of Cork tourism, Michael Martin, called for Spike Island to be converted into a major tourist attraction similar to Alcatraz, off San Francisco.
The island was a monastery for 1,000 years, founded by St Mochuda. It was later used by the British to house convicts awaiting deportation. In 1848, the Irish nationalist, John Mitchell, was held there before he was deported to Tasmania.