Magilligan prison in Co Londonderry is to be retained and redeveloped as part of a £200 million-plus plan to improve Northern Ireland's prisons estate, the Justice Minister has confirmed.
David Ford ended uncertainty hanging over the future of the north west site by announcing that it will not only remain open but its capacity is also set to increase.
The redevelopment will see a new accommodation block replace the existing H blocks and the construction of a modern skills and training centre and pre-release independent living units.
Outlining details of the estates strategy to the Assembly, Mr Ford also outlined plans for a new secure women's facility at the current Hydebank site in south Belfast, a new accommodation block at Maghaberry prison in Co Antrim and the redevelopment of the former prisoner assessment unit on Belfast's Crumlin Road.
Fears that Magilligan was set to be axed had prompted a campaign of opposition, with the Prison Officers Association (POA) at the forefront of the lobbying efforts.
Building work will be undertaken on a phased basis, with full completion planned for 2020, with the project set to take the capacity at Magilligan to about 800, with around 535 prisoners on site currently.
Mr Ford told the Assembly that his decision was based on what was best for the people of Northern Ireland in terms of enhancing public safety through reducing offending, adding: "A number of factors, including the responses to the consultation and engagement with the local councils, have helped shape my thinking and I now consider that there is a case for the retention of Magilligan".
"However, much of Magilligan is no longer fit for purpose and has outlived its useful economic life.
"To that end, my officials have engaged with a number of professional service providers to consider the options for a replacement prison on the existing Magilligan site.
"They are aimed at delivering a range of fit for purpose, flexible, accommodation which promotes staff and prisoner safety; encourages access to education and activities; and encourages and supports rehabilitation."