Magilligan jail decision next week

Justice Minister, David Ford is expected to make an announcement regarding the future of Magilligan Prison next week.

A prison service document compiled last year said the prison would be closed in six years’ time,

However, last November, Minister Ford signalled a change of mind on the future of Northern Ireland’s second largest prison, outside Limavady.

Mr Ford told the Assembly that closure was no longer the preferred option.

“I am now of the opinion that a convincing case might be made for the retention of a prison in the north west on the Magilligan site and of course I would welcome the positive impact this could have both for Magilligan staff and for the local economy,” he said.

“I want to stress that further work is needed before a definitive decision can be made both to ensure that adequate rehabilitation opportunities can be identified and provided; and to look creatively at how family links could be better facilitated and sustained so as to reduce barriers to the effective rehabilitation of prisoners.

“However, I am now inclined towards retaining a prison on the Magilligan site, subject to evidence being provided that issues around rehabilitation and family links can be adequately addressed.”

Cost will be a major factor in the final decision.

The estimated price tag for a new jail on land near Maghaberry was at least £140m.

Magilligan opened its gates 40 years ago. Built on the site of a former army base, a number of World War II Nissen huts are still used as workshops.

It currently holds more than 500 low to medium risk male prisoners.

Speaking at Limavady Borough Council last Tuesday, Chief Executive Liam Flanigan told members an announcement was due from the minister on March 19.

Speaking with regards to a meeting of the recently formed prison liaison committee, involving Limavady, Coleraine and Ballymoney Councils, the Chief Executive said the minister was encouraged with its work.

TUV Colr. Boyd Douglas said Limavady must play its part in the process if “we want to retain the prison and these jobs” and said there was a lot of good work going on to rehabiltate prisoners.

Sinn Fein Colr. Anne Brolly said a positive, inclusive message must be sent out from Council that it wants to be involved in helping rehabilitate prisoners, while the SDLP’s Gerry Mullan agreed there was a big need for the Council to be involved, and added: “We have a very big job to do.”

DUP Colr. George Robinson said the borough would be badly hit should the prison close, with a loss of footfall and jobs.

Councillors subsequently agreed to host officials at their April meeting from the prison service for a presentation, including Magilligan Prison Governor, Malcolm McClenaghan.