The building of what has been described as a “Long Kesh” style wall and security gate around Beladd Park, Portlaoise continues to worry local residents.
However, further concerns were raised this week with the news that 3.76 acres at the Borris Road adjacent to the prison has been bought by the Prison Service for €1,526,000.
Cllr Brian Stanley said: “The ongoing work at the 60 houses in Beladd Park makes a mockery of Michael McDowell’s claims, that he has yet to put on his ‘thinking cap’ regarding what the Government intend to do with the estate.”
“Does McDowell think that the people of Portlaoise are fools? His plans are being put into practice on a daily basis in front of our eyes. High security walls are now in place around the perimeter of the estate and 13 houses have been demolished.
“Added to this is the fact that his Junior Minister, Tom Parlon has publicly stated that ‘massive investment is going on in the prison at present’, part of which is a ‘substantial cell unit’.”
Cllr Stanley continued: “I am also aware of approaches being made by the Irish Prison Services to the owners of adjoining properties, for the purpose of acquiring land around the prison to create a ‘security buffer zone’.”
He added: “People in this town are very reasonable and accept the fact that we have two major prisons in the middle of it. The relationship between the staff of the prisons and the local community is very good. What we do not want is the centre of the town turned into a prison camp by having a third prison or any extension to the existing ones.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney was also very frustrated by the Beladd Park controversy, saying: “The high security fence which currently surrounds the complex continues to arouse suspicion.
“Why all the secrecy? I believe that the residents of the area continue to express their fears are entirely justified and deserve answers. Why can’t Minister McDowell be honest and categorically state what his real intentions are for Beladd Park?”
Cllr Willie Aird, who also had issues regarding the plans for Beladd Park, proposed at this week’s meeting of Portlaoise Town Council that plans for the former prison houses be conveyed to Portlaoise Town Council.
Helen Kelly, PD candidate in the local elections for Portlaoise, reiterated her previous statement, saying: “Nothing has changed, there are no plans to build a hostel, halfway house or step-down facility”.
However, she could not state what would be going into the prison.
Minister for Justice, Mr Michael McDowell was unavailable for comment on the matter of the security gate at Beladd Park when the Leinster Express contacted his offices this week.