A campaign to save Magilligan Prison from closure is underway with workers and politicians vowing to fight the Department of Justice plans “tooth and nail”.
The campaign was launched on Friday by the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) at the gates of the jail.
Finlay Spratt said Magilligan Prison is important for inmates and staff in the north west, but the Prison Service wants to replace it with a new jail closer to Belfast.
Mr Spratt organised a petition at the prison gates and is attempting to secure 20,000 signatures before taking the campaign to Stormont.
Magilligan Prison opened to inmates 40 years ago and more than 400 people currently work at the jail.It is a medium to low security prison which holds qualifying male inmates with six years or fewer to serve.
Speaking ahead of the official launch, local MP Gregory Campbell said: “Already £4 million has been spent preparing for the new prison anyway, which would be totally wasted if they were to move elsewhere. The next thing is the Prison Service own this site and if they go to Maghaberry they have to buy that site so that’s more millions of pounds.
“The additional costs as well, of course, is that every single person that works here is entitled to claim travel expenses every day for up to three years.
“That would be more millions so there is no cost effectiveness to this proposal whatsoever.
“The bottom line for Mr Ford is that he doesn’t have the £140 million to build the new prison at Maghaberry so there is going to have to be a plan B so the sooner he gets that in place the better.”
Mr. Campbell also stressed the “people who work here are from a 20-25 mile radius”.
“It’s a North West regional facility and you’re talking of the something in the region of £10-12 million each year going out of the local economy,” he said.
“We simply can’t afford it, it doesn’t stack up. It’s a Belfast-centric proposal that won’t work and we are going to make sure of that,” added Mr. Campbell.
TUV MLA Jim Allister said it was a “proposterous” proposal.
“This is a dysfunctional Executive, but this is one of the most dysfunctional proposals I have ever seen suggested.
“I think it’s time common sense, through this petition and the Prison Officers’ Association, asserted itself and that some reality was brought and the place for the new prison is here where the jobs and huge investments from these jobs exist.”
SDLP Colr. Michael Coyle said his party doesn’t see the sense in closing down the prison which serves the community well.
“There would be a large number of jobs lost if it did close, as well as indirect jobs that could be lost,” he said. “One of the main things is job creation and job retention and the North West and Limavady have been hit badly over the last few years with enormous loss of jobs.
“It’s time the Assembly turned around and the Justice Minister, David Ford open his eyes there is another part of the Six Counties - the North West - they can’t pull everything out.
“This is an opportunity for Mr. Ford to retain the prison and inject the invetment that is required.”
Independent MLA David McClarty said it was an “extremely foolish” proposal.
“Mr Ford doesn’t have the money so it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
“The land here in Magilligan is owned by the Prison Service while the land in Maghaberry is not and would have to be purchased.
“It doesn’t make sense and it will never make sense and we will fight this tooth and nail to make sure Magilligan jail remains in its present location.”
One worker told the ‘Journal’ he had big concerns about the propopsal, as a lot of staff had.
“In my opinion every other department is talking about decentralisation, while the Department of Justice is talking about centralisation. They want to give better conditions for people committing crimes instead of putting that money into health and education, which would have long term benefits,” he said. “A lot of staff don’t want or could afford to travel to Maghaberry.The impact that would have on families. It is worrying.”