Irish prisoners overseas
Irish prisoners overseas can face significant difficulties, including language barriers, discrimination and an unfamiliar legal system. 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.
The families of prisoners overseas may encounter problems such as language and cultural differences or restrictions on communicating with the prisoner.
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. 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.
A prisoner must meet 4 conditions 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 his or her home country.
An application for a transfer usually begins with the prisoner informing the prison authorities that they are interested in being transferred back to Ireland to serve their sentence.
Alternatively, the prisoner can communicate this directly to the Minister for Justice and Equality (94 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland). However, it is likely that this will add a number of weeks to the process.
Following the completion of their sentence, whether or not a prisoner will be deported to Ireland will depend on the country in which they are detained. 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 very important that a prisoner keeps whatever documentation they are given about their 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 must have a close link to Ireland. People who have been deported usually 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, 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:
- 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 and Equality
- Providing help to prisoners in preparation for their release
- Visiting prisoners and helping 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).
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 specifically asked 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 website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.