Covid-19 and pay rises to push up prison bill for Portlaoise and other jails by €20 million this year

Conor Ganly

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Conor Ganly

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news@leinsterexpress.ie

coronavirus covid-19

Portlaoise Prison

Taxpayers will have to pay an extra €5 million to fund the cost of Covid-19 at jails in Portlaoise and elsewhere while the annual cost of running Ireland's jails is set to rise by €19 million.

The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee revealed the figures in the Dáil today when she outlined the Department of Justice spending for 2020.

Briefing TDs on the cost of Covid-19 Minister McEntee said there are a number of drivers including prison officers who have had to self isolate.

"An additional Covid-19 related costs in the prisons are currently estimated to be in the region of €4 to €5 million in total. These are preliminary costings and the final cost depends on the length of the emergency and the impact on the prisons. The costs mainly relate to PPE equipment, additional video link facilities for remote court attendance and additional payroll costs to cover for officers in isolation," she said.

She added that measures taken have resulted in no cases in prisons in Portlaoise or elsewhere.

Overall, Minister McEntee said the cost of running prisons is estimated to rise to nearly €400 million for this year. The gross estimate is €392.4 million.

"The additional current expenditure of almost €19 million, compared with the corresponding budget in 2019, includes €14 million in respect of additional payroll costs as well as €5 million across a number of areas to meet the demands arising from higher prisoner numbers and increased maintenance costs of the prisons estate," she said.

However, she expected an underspend on capital spending which mainly involves Limerick Prison's redevelopment. A budget of  €46.7 million is set aside for 2020 but Minister McEntee expects Covid-19 to be a factor.

"A full financial analysis is currently being carried out with the contractor but while progress will be made, there may be an underspend in capital by year-end," she said.

Turning to the Prisons Vote (Vote 21), the Gross Estimate in 2019 is €392.4 million.

The additional current expenditure of almost €19 million, compared with the corresponding budget in 2019, includes €14 million in respect of additional payroll costs as well as €5 million across a number of areas to meet the demands arising from higher prisoner numbers and increased maintenance costs of the prisons estate.

The capital budget for 2020 has increased significantly from €32.3 million last year to €46.7 million. Most of this will be utilised for the redevelopment of Limerick Prison. The potential impact on the project in 2020 due to Covid is as yet unclear. However, there is likely to be an underspend due to the site restrictions and also the impact of social distancing and supply chain issues after the restriction period. A full financial analysis is currently being carried out with the contractor but while progress will be made, there may be an underspend in capital by year-end.

On the other hand, additional Covid-19 related costs in the prisons are currently estimated to be in the region of €4 to €5 million in total. These are preliminary costings and the final cost depends on the length of the emergency and the impact on the prisons. The costs mainly relate to PPE equipment, additional video link facilities for remote court attendance and additional payroll costs to cover for officers in isolation.

To date, no prisoner has been infected with COVID-19 and the Irish Prison Service has been internationally recognised for its work in controlling the spread of the virus. The IPS has now shared its experience with other countries through the submission of a paper to the World Health Organisation on its approach to the outbreak.

It represents a very strong collective effort that has been made to-date by Irish Prison Service staff, management, prisoners and Red Cross Volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new infection prevention and control teams that are in place in all prisons have made a significant contribution to the successful handling of the virus and this work is something which should be particularly commended. It is vitally important these efforts should continue in order to maintain this remarkable safety record