SIXTY-four criminal fugitives – including a murderer – remain at large after escaping from custody, figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.
The murderer, whose identity cannot be revealed for legal reasons, escaped in 2000 and has been on the run ever since. The killer, who was convicted of murder in 1987, has been on the run from Shelton Abbey Open Prison for the past 14 years.
According to newly released figures, the number of prisoners recorded as "having absconded or escaped from the custody of the Irish Prison Service and who have not been returned to custody" is 64.
The vast majority of the convicted criminals who have escaped did so from low-security open prisons. Two prisoners managed to give security officers the slip while outside the confines of the prison.
"Of these 64, 60 prisoners have absconded from the open centres, two have escaped from a closed prison and two have escaped from the custody of prison officers outside the confines of a prison, and remain at large," Justice Minister Alan Shatter revealed in response to a parliamentary question from his party colleague Bernard Durkan.
Almost 1,000 criminals escaped from prison over the past decade, with more than 500 absconding between 2007 and 2013. In 2009, 133 managed to escape and 16 of those have never been caught.
Convicted killers who are nearing the end of their sentences are among those who are transferred to such low- security open prisons, as a part of the societal normalisation process before their release.
Last October, Samuel Connolly, 24, was recaptured two weeks after absconding from Loughlan House open prison in Co Cavan. Connolly, who slashed a Good Samaritan in the face and bit another man, was returned to maximum-security Wheatfield Prison to finish out his sentence.
On foot of the new figures, Mr Durkan, who is a Fine Gael TD for Kildare North, urged Mr Shatter to stop serious criminals being transferred to open prisons.
"These figures show they tend to use the first opportunity to escape," he said.
Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins said the high number of prisoners currently at large "makes a mockery" of Ireland's criminal justice system.
He told the Sunday Independent: "Much greater consideration must be given to which prisoners are sent to open prison settings, when so many of them are absconding."
In 2012, given the high number of escapees, the director general of the Irish Prison Service established a project team to examine how the Irish prison service might reduce the number of prisoners who are unlawfully at large from custody.
Separately, it has also emerged that a total of 62 Republican terrorist prisoners were in custody as of January 29.
DANIEL McCONNELL, Political Correspondent