No repatriations of Irish citizens abroad have been completed since January 2016. There are currently 33 applications from Irish prisoners abroad wishing to transfer their sentence to this country with some of these applicants waiting for several years for their application to be processed. The current impasse is causing considerable hardship for prisoners and in particular, for their families, many of whom are not in a position to visit their loved ones in prison.
It is now over 14 months since the Supreme Court dismissed the State’s appeal in O’Farrell, McDonald, Rafferty v The Governor of Portlaoise Prison. All applications received from prisoners abroad are currently ‘on hold’ while the Department of Justice and Equality consider the implication of this judgment and obtain legal advice. As recently as the end of July 2017, the new Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan TD indicated in a reply to a Dáil question that this process was still ongoing and due to its complexity, it was not possible to give a time frame for its conclusion.
The issue or issues for which legal advice is being sought have not been identified and prisoners face delay because of an unknown problem and an unknown timeframe as to when it will be addressed. As one parent told ICPO recently:
“My son is asking me weekly what the situation is and it is getting frustrating telling him each week that I do not know what is happening.”
Even when applications were being processed the low rates of inward transfers and the long delays in processing applications was of concern to Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO). Figures from the Department of Justice show that since the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Act came into operation on 1 November 1995, only 154 prisoners have been transferred into Ireland from abroad out of 527 applications. Worryingly, there has been a significant but unexplained decline in the number of applications being completed in recent years. In the period from 2011 to 2016 inclusive, only 13 applications were processed to completion which compares unfavourably with 80 in the 5 years after the Act came into force. This is also in contrast to the 49 foreign national prisoners who have been repatriation to their own countries from 2011 to 2016.
Moreover, Ireland has yet to transpose the Framework Decision 2008/909/JHA, which governs the transfer of prisoners among EU Member States, into Irish law. In March the then Minister for Justice and Equality stated that draft legislation would be published later this year. The Minister must also clarify the position of prisoners in countries outside the EU and in the UK post Brexit,
ICPO will meet with senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality later this month. We urge the Department to prioritise the repatriation of Irish prisoners and ensure that any necessary legislative changes are put in place as a matter of urgency to allow for the processing of inward applications to commence without delay.
It is reasonable for them to ask the Attorney General’s office when it will consider the Supreme Court judgment and provide their advice as a matter of urgency if they have not already done so and this information should be shared with anxious prisoners and their families. In addition, the backlog of applications must be processed in an expeditious manner permitting the repatriation of those prisoners whose applications are currently on hold.
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