Northern Ireland Affairs Committee: Press Notice

Press Notice No 25

Session 06-07

20 August 2007

Press Notice No 25

Inquiry into the Northern Ireland Prison Service

Publication of letter from the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to Mr Paul Goggins, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, on the replacement of HMP Magilligan

Sir Patrick Cormack MP, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has today published the contents of a letter that he sent on behalf of the Committee to Mr Paul Goggins, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, on the replacement of HMP Magilligan.

The Committee began its inquiry into the Northern Ireland Prison Service in March, and has visited each of the prisons in Northern Ireland as well as taking evidence from a range of organisations and individuals concerned with the Northern Ireland Prison Service. On 21 February 2007, Paul Goggins, the Prisons Minister, announced that a decision would be taken before the end of the year on the location of a prison to replace HMP Magilligan. In the course of its inquiry, the Committee has considered the options for the replacement of the existing prison at Magilligan; the Committee decided to make clear its views on the options for replacement of Magilligan in a letter to the Prisons Minister before it published its full report.

The text of the letter from Sir Patrick Cormack to Paul Goggins, dated 19 July 2007, is as follows:

"When we embarked upon our inquiry into the Northern Ireland Prison Service, we had it in mind to publish our report during the July to September period. On that basis, you assured the Committee that you would make no final decision upon the siting of any replacement for HMP Magilligan until after you had given evidence to the Committee yourself and had had the chance to consider what recommendations we might make.

The more we became immersed in our inquiry, the clearer it became to us that we would need much longer to produce the comprehensive and helpful report that we intended. We are aware that the Prison Service is preparing an options paper for you and you have indicated to me that you would like to be in a position to consider this thoroughly as soon as possible after you have received it. We fully understand and accept your position on this.

Because we have now visited all of the prison facilities in Northern Ireland itself and have taken evidence from most key witnesses, we felt it would be helpful if we set out the Committee's unanimous views on the Magilligan issue in this letter, the content of which we intend to make public. Our correspondence will also be published with our final report.

Whilst we fully accept the fact that there are good arguments in favour of concentrating Northern Ireland prison facilities within a 30 mile radius of Belfast, we do not believe that this should be an overriding criterion in deciding where any major new prison should be built. Indeed, the fact that this is listed by the Prison Service Deputy Director, Mr Max Murray, in his letter to us of 9 July 2007 as one of the nine essential criteria would seem to indicate that a decision has already been made that the replacement prison will not be on the Magilligan site. This places you in a difficult position. On one hand, it is publicly suggested that there are real options on siting. On the other hand, one key site is effectively ruled out by biased criteria. We believe that the case for and against a redevelopment on the Magilligan site should be considered on its merits.

The Committee believes that although there can be no question of the urgent need for replacing the H blocks at Magilligan, the site itself is capable of extensive and versatile redevelopment. This is already apparent when one considers how many different and in some cases commendable developments have already been made on this site. We would particularly refer to Foyleview in this context.

Prisons are not only about buildings. They are about the accumulated wisdom of staff, the links that are made with the surrounding community in relation to educational opportunities and resettlement and, perhaps above all, the morale of those committed staff who work there. There are many acknowledged areas of good practice at Magilligan which should not be lightly discarded. Nor should it be forgotten that any new prison would have significant teething problems before it could establish itself.

We would urge you therefore not to accept what would appear to be the arbitrary requirement of close proximity to Belfast and to be very careful before you sanction the abandonment of those recognised areas of good practice at Magilligan. We also think it would be prudent to acknowledge that the three site solution is not the only one on the table and although the Committee is not in a position to comment in detail, we have heard enough evidence to realise that a four site solution would have some advantages. Perhaps the most overriding case for retaining a prison at Magilligan however, is that the site is owned by the Prison Service and it would therefore be possible to phase the replacement over a carefully defined period thus spreading the inevitably large cost over a number of years.

All of these factors would mean that it would be possible at the end of a decade to have an absolutely first class prison at Magilligan at a significantly lower cost, and with significantly less upheaval than the building of a new prison on a green field site would inevitably entail. In conclusion, it is the unanimous view of this Committee, for the reasons stated above, that extensive prison facilities should be retained at Magilligan."

Information about the inquiry, together with other information about the Committee's work, is available on the Committee's Homepage.

For further information about the work of the Committee, please e-mail

The Committee Members are:- Sir Patrick Cormack, MP (Chairman) (Conservative, South Staffordshire), Mr David Anderson, MP (Labour, Blaydon), Rt. Hon John Battle MP (Labour, Leeds West), Mr Gregory Campbell, MP (Democratic Unionist Party, East Londonderry), Rosie Cooper, MP (Labour, West Lancashire), Mr Christopher Fraser, MP (Conservative, South West Norfolk), Mr John Grogan, MP (Labour, Selby), Mr Stephen Hepburn, MP (Labour, Jarrow), Lady Hermon, MP (Ulster Unionist Party, North Down), Dr Alasdair McDonnell, MP (SDLP, Belfast South), Mr Denis Murphy MP (Labour, Wansbeck) Mr Stephen Pound, MP (Labour, Ealing North),Mr Sammy Wilson, MP (Democratic Unionist Party, East Antrim)