Irish prisoners overseas
Irish prisoners overseas face significant difficulties, including an unfamiliar legal system, discrimination and language barriers. Some prisoners experience extreme hardship, with limited access to basic necessities, and in some jurisdictions prison conditions and safety are a major cause of concern.
Restrictions on communication, language and cultural differences are some of the problems that the families of prisoners overseas encounter.
The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas estimates that there are up to 1,000 Irish citizens in prison outside Ireland at any one time.
In 2007 the Department of Foreign Affairs published a Report on Prisoners Abroad.
Ireland is a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which allows prisoners to apply to be transferred home to serve their prison sentence in their own country. In order for a transfer to take place there must be three-way consent. The prisoner, the sentencing country and the prisoner’s home country all have to agree to the transfer.
There are four conditions that a prisoner must meet in order to be eligible to apply for a transfer:
- The prisoner must be a citizen of the country to which they wish to be transferred. In some cases it will be enough if the prisoner is not a citizen but a permanent resident of a country.
- The sentence is final. A prisoner cannot apply for transfer before they face trial or until after all appeals have been heard.
- There must be at least six months left to serve on the sentence.
- The crime that the prisoner is convicted of must also be a crime in his or her home country.
An application for a transfer usually begins with the prisoner informing the prison authorities that he/she is interested in being transferred back to Ireland to serve his/her sentence. Alternatively, the prisoner can express such an interest directly to the Minister for Justice and Equality (94 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland), but it is likely that this will add a number of weeks to the process.
Whether or not a prisoner will be deported to Ireland following the completion of his/her sentence will depend on the country in which he/she is detained. Some countries will automatically deport an overseas prisoner if they have served a certain amount of time in prison or if they have any previous convictions. If deported it is very important that a prisoner holds on to whatever documentation he/she is given in respect of his/her imprisonment and subsequent deportation. This material will be helpful in obtaining benefits in Ireland.
Since 2007 Irish prisoners have been exempt from compulsory deportation from the United Kingdom upon completion of their sentence, save in exceptional circumstances.
Post-release: entitlement to social welfare
To be entitled to certain social welfare payments a returning ex-prisoner must satisfy the habitual residence condition. This means that the person has a close link to Ireland. Proving that a person is habitually resident in Ireland relies heavily on the facts and applications are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Deportation is usually considered to be an exception to the habitual residence condition. In other words, people who are deported are not subject to the habitual residence condition.
Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas
The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) is a charitable organisation, established by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 1985. It works on behalf of Irish prisoners overseas to provide information and support to these prisoners and their families.
ICPO services include the following:
- Providing information and support to prisoners and their families in relation to a wide range of issues, including repatriation, deportation, health and legal matters, discrimination and ill-treatment
- Representing prisoners’ interests to relevant parties (Irish embassies and consulates, welfare agencies, probation and legal officers)
- Monitoring repatriation applications with the Department of Justice and Equality
- Providing assistance to prisoners in preparation for their release
- Visiting prisoners and assisting families with travel and accommodation for prison visits
ICPO holds a Family Information Day each year to provide families with information and support and to give them the opportunity to meet other people who have a relative in prison overseas.
You can find more information in a leaflet about the ICPO (pdf).
A function of Irish embassies and consulates is to ensure that the rights of Irish citizens who are arrested or imprisoned abroad are fully respected. In many cases the local authorities will only contact the Irish embassy or consulate if specifically asked to do so. Among other things, a consular officer can:
- Assist in getting information about prison arrangements
- Provide information regarding local lawyers
- Provide families with information regarding the prison and legal arrangements in the country where their family member is detained
- Help maintain contact with friends and family and arrange for funds provided by them to be transferred safely
- Put the detained person in touch with relevant agencies such as ICPO
There is further information on consular assistance on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Tel:+353 1 408 2000
Contact Form: https://www.dfa.ie/about-us/contact-us/contact-consular-assistance/