Locked Up

'One of the most vulnerable groups of emigrants' - 45 Irish people jailed abroad in 2016

Ten Irish people were sent to prison in the US this year, there were seven new cases in Australia and six in France.

THIS YEAR, 45 Irish people were imprisoned abroad, in 14 countries across the world.

Figures released to through a Freedom of Information request show this is a drop on previous years, with 52 imprisoned in 2015 and 61 jailed the previous year.

Ten Irish people were sent to prison in the US this year, there were seven new cases in Australia and six in France. There are more than 1,200 Irish people detained in Irish prisons in other countries.

Department of Foreign Affairs Department of Foreign Affairs

The figures also revealed a significant number of Irish people (52) jailed in Britain in 2011. The total number of new cases that year was 72.


Brian Hanley, coordinator of the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas said these people continue to be “one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups of Irish emigrants”.

“They 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,” he explained.

The ICPO assists clients with a wide range of issues, including repatriation, deportation, health and legal matters, discrimination, ill-treatment and access to post-release support and accommodation.

The vast majority of Irish prisoners overseas are detained in the UK but the council said the recent wave of emigration has resulted in a “notable increase in the number of Irish prisoners in other parts of the world”.

“For example, in the last three years the ICPO has seen an eight-fold increase in the number of young emigrants spending a period of time in prison in Australia,” Hanly said.

Consular assistance

The Department of Foreign Affairs told its policy is to provide assistance to any Irish prisoner that requests it.

This assistance includes:

  • Helping the prisoner to keep in contact with family or friends back home;
  • Providing information about prison arrangements;
  • Arranging for funds sent by the family to be transferred to the prisoner (in line with prison arrangements);
  • Seeking to ensure the prisoner is not discriminated against in any way on account of his/her nationality;
  • Seeking to ensure access to appropriate legal representation;
  • Ensuring authorities in the country where he/she is being imprisoned fulfil their obligations in relation to ensuring the citizen’s health and wellbeing.

The ICPO also provides information and support to families of Irish prisoners overseas.

Hanley said the imprisonment of a loved one abroad can be a “devastating experience” and families encounter significant problems like restrictions on communications and dealing with an unfamiliar legal system.

Families often suffer from extreme anxiety as a result of the imprisonment of a loved one overseas and some also experience feelings of guilt and shame.

He said it should be noted that in the past year some Irish people who had been detained abroad returned home.

“With the support of their families, communities and organisations like the ICPO they are actively working towards a positive resettlement experience in Ireland.”

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