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50m euro prison site now worth just 2.4m euro, says spending watchdog

Published 29/09/2015

A protest in north Dublin against the development of Thornton Hall as a prison
A protest in north Dublin against the development of Thornton Hall as a prison

A failed new prison site at Thornton Hall is worth just 2.4 million euro - despite costing the public purse more than 50 million euro.

The state's public spending watchdog said prison chiefs are valuing the controversial land differently to all other properties around the country.

A valuation handed to the Irish Prison Service in February put the site in north Co Dublin at 2.4 million euro in today's market prices, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said.

"Adopting these values would result in a reduction of up to 48 million euro in the valuation included in the appropriation account for the Thornton property," he added in his latest annual report.

Prison Service accounts still value the site at its "historic" cost of 50.6 million euro.

Mr McCarthy said this method of valuation was only applied to Thornton Hall, with all other prison properties, technically owned by the Justice Minister, being valued at their current market rates on the books.

The spending watchdog said there were "inconsistent valuations" of prison land and buildings, "with the property at Thornton being treated differently to similar property held by the Prison Service elsewhere".

Mr McCarthy said the Thornton site is overvalued on official accounts.

The Government bought Thornton Hall, a listed house with 150 acres, for 30 million euro in 2005.

Since then, another 3.5 million euro has been spent on access roads, 2.6 million euro on off-site work and 3 million euro on preparation and surveys.

Almost 6 million euro has gone into technical fees, nearly 1.5 million euro in legal fees and 460,000 euro on financial fees.

Landscaping, maintenance and repairs has cost just shy of a million euro, while security at the site has taken another 563,000 euro from the public purse.

The planned new prison off the N2 and near the M50 was supposed to replace Mountjoy Prison in central Dublin.

As expected costs more than tripled from 150 million euro to 525 million euro, the project foundered due to a lack of public cash and ability to raise private funding.

In the meantime, 29.3 million euro has also been pumped into Mountjoy, to improve conditions in the jail Thornton was meant to replace.

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