The female prison at Maghaberry has 56 cells and was designed to accommodate all the female prisoners in Northern Ireland.
On 27 January, 31 female prisoners were in custody there. On the same date there were 93 prisoners in the male prison at Maghaberry, which has a capacity for 432. It is expected that there will be around 100 male prisoners there by the middle of next month, with the build-up continuing thereafter. At present it is not possible to estimate when full occupation of the male prison will be achieved.
Is the Minister aware that some years have elapsed since Maghaberry prison was supposed to come into service? I would like to make the Minister aware of the grave suspicion that, during the construction of that prison, Republican elements employed there were guilty of certain acts, as a consequence of which the prison is not being opened when it should be. In view of the fact that the Crumlin road prison is grossly overcrowded, as I know from my own experience, will the Minister tell the House whether he will consider moving some prisoners from Crumlin road to Maghaberry if and when that prison is ever commissioned?
The main reason for the delay in the opening of the new Maghaberry prison was the need to carry out major redesign work following security experience of similarly designed prisons elsewhere in the United Kingdom. As to the hon. Gentleman's comment about overcrowding at Belfast prison, I am glad to be able to tell him that the number of prisoners there yesterday was only 14 above the authorised capacity of 500.