Irish prisoners overseas
Irish prisoners overseas can face significant difficulties, including language barriers, discrimination and an unfamiliar legal system. In some countries, prison conditions are also a cause of hardship.
The families of prisoners overseas may encounter problems such as language and cultural differences, or difficulty communicating with their loved one.
This document discusses some of the issues facing Irish prisoners overseas and their families. It includes information on:
- Deportation; and
- Support services
Returning prisoners to Ireland
Ireland is a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This is a legal agreement that allows prisoners to apply to be transferred home to serve their prison sentence in their own country.
For a transfer to take place, there must be agreement among:
- The prisoner
- The sentencing country; and
- The prisoner’s home country
The following 4 conditions must also be met for a prisoner to be eligible to apply for a transfer:
- The prisoner must be regarded as a national of the country they wish to be transferred to.
- The sentence must be final. A prisoner cannot apply for transfer before they face trial or until after all appeals have been heard.
- There must be at least 6 months left to serve on the sentence.
- The crime that the prisoner is convicted of must also be a crime in their home country.
An application for a transfer usually begins with the prisoner informing the prison authorities that they wish to be transferred back to Ireland to serve their sentence.
Alternatively, the prisoner can communicate this wish directly to the Minister for Justice. However, it is likely that this will add a number of weeks to the process.
Upon completion of their sentence, an Irish national may automatically be returned to Ireland by the authorities of the country in which they were imprisoned. This is referred to as deportation.
Some countries 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 important that a prisoner keeps whatever documentation they are given about their imprisonment and subsequent deportation. This material may be helpful in obtaining benefits in Ireland.
Irish prisoners are, with limited exceptions, exempt from compulsory deportation from the United Kingdom upon completion of their sentence.
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 they must have a close link to Ireland.
However, people who have been deported generally do not have to satisfy the habitual residence condition.
Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas
The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) is a charitable organisation that works to provide information and support to Irish people imprisoned overseas and their families.
ICPO services include:
- Providing information and support to prisoners and their families on a wide range of issues, including repatriation, deportation, health, 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
- Providing help to prisoners in preparation for their release
- Visiting prisoners and helping families with travel and accommodation for prison visits
The 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).
Irish embassies and consulates 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 requested to do so. Among other things, a consular officer can:
- Help with getting information about prison arrangements
- Provide information about local lawyers
- Provide families with information about the prison and legal arrangements in the country where their family member is detained
- Help prisoners to maintain contact with friends and family and arrange for the safe transfer of funds they provide
- Put the detained person in touch with relevant agencies such as ICPO
You can get more information on consular assistance on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.