Hamill’s Beat - Build the new prison at Magilligan not Lisburn

Magilligan prison
Magilligan prison

It had to happen sometime, I suppose. (Is that the law of averages?) Readers will know this column has been fiercely critical of Gregory Campbell, the MP for Coleraine and Limavady. “You really have it in for Gregory,” a reader once commented. Well, here’s something I do agree with the MP for Coleraine and Limavady about.

Who’d have thought that post-Good Friday Agreement the Greater Belfast area would continue to attract virtually everything? Maybe naively we assumed that, in our brave new world, public spending would be equitably spread around. In the bad old days of the unionist regime the ‘gravitational force’ was to any unionist area east of the Bann.

Is it the power of the civil service?

Most of their people still live and work around Belfast. Their known world used to extend only as far as Belfast’s red buses.

Maybe their horizons have stretched a little, but the north and west could still be in Outer Mongolia, for all they know. Does the sign at the top of the Glenshane Pass saying, “end of the crawler lane” apply particularly to civil servants?

For instance, do you remember a few years ago when they designated the railway beyond Ballymena a “non core line”? Well, we may have won the battle on the railway but public service parochialism is alive and well.

Now they want to move the prison from Magilligan to Lisburn at a cost of £140m. Gregory Campbell is up in arms, so to speak.

Apparently the 71 miles that visitors have to travel from Belfast to Magilligan is too far. Needless to say, it doesn’t matter how far anyone from Derry has to travel.

I’m no ‘securocrat’ and agree with Sinn Féin that the time is right for a comprehensive prison reform package, including more representative staffing.

But that’s not to say that the prison, like everything else, has to move eastwards. In fact, that could make achieving representative staffing even more difficult.

Magilligan is an attractive area.

Being sparsely populated, with sand dunes surrounded on three sides by Lough Foyle, it’s also an ideal place for a prison. The area does have potential to draw in more tourists but there’s no reason why a modern prison should deter them.

Incoming Mayor of Limavady, Sinn Fein’s Cathal McLaughlin (on Radio Foyle) said, “I’m from the area – it’s a beautiful area. It’s a tourist mine field”. Later on TV, he ‘corrected’ that, by saying, “gold mine”.

The economy around Limavady is in a bad way. For evidence of that, look around the town. I agree with Mr Campbell that the North West can’t afford to lose around £10m of annual spending from prison staff. Think again, Justice Minister Ford.

Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday