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Magilligan jail staff facing 'atrocious' conditions, warns officers' body chief

By Donna Deeney

Published 02/06/2016

Finlay Spratt
Finlay Spratt

The chairman of the Prison Officers Association has described the conditions Magilligan Prison staff face as "atrocious".

Finlay Spratt said he was massively disappointed that a promise to replace the facility had not progressed in three years.

In 2013, the then-Justice Minister David Ford allayed fears that a new prison would be built in the greater Belfast area when he announced that the Magilligan facility would be replaced on site, safeguarding the 450 jobs at the jail in Co Londonderry.

However, the project has since stalled because the £130m needed to complete the scheme has yet to be made available.

Mr Spratt said: "It is extremely disappointing that there has not been any movement at all on the new prison building at Magilligan - especially when millions of pounds have been approved for Maghaberry.

"Magilligan is in a far worse state - in fact, it is not fit for purpose, so Magilligan should have been prioritised over Maghaberry.

"The conditions our members are working in are at times atrocious. In hot weather like this, it is like being in a sauna, while in the wintertime, it is far too cold.

"I really would have thought that three years after it was decided to keep the prison at Magilligan, some progress would have been made."

The campaign to keep the prison facility at the same site secured widespread cross-community support, with politicians across the divide among those arguing that the loss of almost 450 jobs and the £10m the facility contributes to the local economy would have devastating consequences.

SDLP East Derry MLA Gerry Mullan called on the new Justice Minister Clare Sugden, who is also an MLA for the area, to make the issue her priority.

"Given the circumstances of the new minister's elevation, it's even more important that she delivers for people across the north but particularly for East Derry," Mr Mullan said.

"Critical here is the new build at Magilligan Prison. The previous minister has already recognised that standards at the prison fall short of those required by disability access legislation and that the current infrastructure has outlived its useful life.

"It's critical that we see a new build at the site to relieve pressure on staff and prisoners, offering them a genuine opportunity for rehabilitation in a modern prison environment.

"But critically for East Derry, a new build would help to stimulate the local construction industry, which has struggled throughout the economic downturn.

"The delivery of capital projects was a key failure of the last Executive. As a public representative for this constituency, I will ensure that the new Government's feet are held to the fire to deliver new projects and new jobs for people here.

"The Justice Minister must announce plans for the way forward on Magilligan as soon as possible."

The Department of Justice made no comment.

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