Staff at Magilligan Prison feel its closure is a done deal according to MP Gregory Campbell.
It’s also been claimed that the cost of closing the jail and relocating to the Greater Belfast area is more than double that in the Justice Minister's budget, leaving a deficit of almost £60m.
The East Londonderry MP suggested the only reasonable option left to Justice Minister David Ford was to retain the facility as the department already owns the land and wouldn’t have to pay travelling costs for staff.
Mr Campbell was speaking after attending one of two public meetings to be held this week discussing proposals to relocate the 450 prisoners from Magilligan to a new facility in the Greater Belfast area.
The other option is to build a new prison on the present site in the North West.
He said there is a huge swell of support in Limavady and Coleraine for the prison to remain in Magilligan, but a growing scepticism that a decision has already been made about its future was evidenced in the poor attendance at a meeting this week.
Mr Campbell added: “We were on the streets of Limavady at the weekend with the petition to keep the prison in Magilligan and we had hundreds of signatures but there is a general scepticism that this is a done deal and the decision has already been taken to relocate it to Belfast.
“At that meeting I suggested that if it really was the Prison Service of Northern Ireland then there should be at least one prison more than 12 miles away from Belfast.
“The department already owns the land at Magilligan so the cost of purchasing a new site to house the 450 prisoners is not necessary and added to that the department would save an estimated £10m keeping the staff at Magilligan. All this would have to be paid for out of a budget the minister simply does not have.
“The real elephant in the room is that the minister just does not have the estimated £130m needed to build a new prison in Belfast and he can't say where the money will come from and he must also consider the loss of £10m to the local economy every year if the move goes ahead.
“While the majority of prisoners do come from the Belfast area, the second largest figure is from the North West and North Coast areas, so keeping the prison in Magilligan will assist their families visiting and the overwhelming number of staff already live in either Coleraine or Limavady.”
In response the minister insisted that he would make a decision only after the full consultation process was complete.
He said: “We are not in the habit of conducting consultation processes where a decision has already been made so I can assure people I will only make my final decision after I have been presented with all the relevant information which I should have by the end of this calendar year and will then be in a position to say what that is in the New Year.
“It is difficult to say what the exact costs of building a new prison will be, but I agree with Mr Campbell that a ballpark figure of £130m as an estimate, however it is dependent on a number of factors.
“This is a decision that is not for a few years but a decision that will effectively fix things for 50 years or maybe more and that is why we must take time to get it right.”