Wednesday 22 November 2017

Irish prisoners abroad blocked from securing transfer 'home'

Every year between 15 and 30 Irish prisoners jailed abroad seek to be repatriated so they can be close to their families or for other personal reasons. Stock Image
Every year between 15 and 30 Irish prisoners jailed abroad seek to be repatriated so they can be close to their families or for other personal reasons. Stock Image
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The State has stopped accepting the transfer to Irish prisons of people convicted abroad.

Every year between 15 and 30 Irish prisoners jailed abroad seek to be repatriated so they can be close to their families or for other personal reasons.

However, applications are no longer being accepted by the Department of Justice, the Irish Independent has learned.

The decision was made after the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the State against High Court orders directing the release of a three dissident republican prisoners from the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise.

The men had been in prison in the UK before transferring to Ireland in 2006. They argued they would have been eligible for earlier release had they stayed there.

Their case highlighted differences between sentencing regimes in the two jurisdictions.

Received briefing note: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
Received briefing note: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke

In the UK, prisoners can avail of release on licence having served two-thirds of their sentence, or, in the cases of persons jailed after 2005, one-half of their sentence.

Release on licence is not available in Ireland, but prisoners can avail of remission for a quarter of their sentence if they are of good behaviour.

Ireland is one of 60 countries signed up to an international convention on the transfer of sentenced prisoners and such transfers have been allowed by Irish legislation since 1995.

But it has now emerged no prisoner transfers have taken place since the Supreme Court ruling, made in July last year.

A briefing document prepared for new Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan stated officials were still considering how to react to the court's decision.

"Pending the conclusion of the consideration of the judgment, which may well indicate a need for legislative change, no further transfers of prisoners from abroad to Ireland are taking place," it said.

The three men, Fintan O'Farrell and Declan Rafferty, from Carlingford, Co Louth, and Michael McDonald, from Dundalk, were arrested by Slovak police in July 2001 after seeking arms and financial support from the Iraqi government. It followed a sting operation where they were met by two undercover British agents posing as Iraqi arms dealers.

All three were extradited to England and pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiracy to cause explosions in London. They received 30-year sentences, later reduced to terms of 28 years.

In 2006, they secured transfers to the Midlands Prison.

In 2014, their lawyers secured a High Court inquiry into the lawfulness of their continued detention. In two judgments that August and September, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan held their detention was unlawful and directed their release.

He ruled the warrants detaining the three were defective .

The judge said, had they remained in England, they would have been entitled to release on licence after serving 18 years and eight months. However, the 2006 warrants under which they were detained here recorded their sentences as 28 years and were therefore defective.

He also noted Irish law only permits a maximum sentence of 20 years for conspiracy to cause explosions while the maximum sentence in England is life.

The judge said the sentences of the three men should have been adapted to reflect the true equivalent sentence as might have been imposed by an Irish court.

Irish Independent

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