| 17.6°C Dublin

In the jailhouse now

FIGURES contained in the most recent Irish Prison Service Report show that the number of non-Irish prisoners incarcerated is a staggering 30 per cent of the entire prison population. Between 2005 and 2006 this rose by 5 per cent.

In the last census the figure for non-Irish nationals held in our jails was only 10 per cent -- yet foreign nationals now make up almost a third of our prison population.

Just what is going on? Why do non-Irish people have the dubious honour of figuring so prominently in our prison system? Can we simply say that all those who are not Irish are more likely to commit crime?

The prison population statistics make for astonishing reading. A third of all prisoners are from outside the Republic of Ireland. Some 16.8 per cent are of European origin, with over 50 per cent of that figure coming from an EU country, excluding the United Kingdom.

The figure for African prisoners rose even more strikingly, reaching a substantial 5.7 per cent of the prison population most recently recorded. The prison population from all other parts of the world also increased between 2005 and 2006.

These figures are not horrifying simply because almost a third of prisoners in Ireland are non-Irish. The prisoners' country of origin is irrelevant, as is the colour of their skin, race or creed. Our indigenous prison population, still the majority of our prisoners, should not be judged more favourably simply by virtue of being Irish.

There are, after all, criminals in every country and we know this better than most. In fact we are unable to stop Irish criminals from committing and repeating their crimes because we are afraid of them, we bow down before the altar of their human rights and in so doing kick victims and their families in the teeth.

The real horror that lies behind these statistics that show the disproportionate population of foreign prisoners is that we let them into this country in the first place.

Our current problem is the other side of the EU coin that we all choose to forget -- the sting in the tail, if you will, of all those farm subsidies. The EU is very interested in the free movement of people and goods and on paper that seems a wonderful idea. The problem with such freedoms, however, is that some of Europe's worst criminals can get in to this and other countries with impunity.

Of course bleeding heart Euroweenies will say that European treaties provide for the exclusion of such individuals under grounds of "public security" or "public policy" where they pose an "actual and current threat to the interests of the society".

In 2006, out of a prison population of 9,600, over 2,900 were from outside the State. I wonder how we missed that group. Did anyone think of checking with either Europol or Interpol when these people came to our borders and were made known to us? When asylum-seekers apply for leave to stay in Ireland what cognisance is really taken of their criminal past? Do those on a work permit have their background checked? Perhaps we don't care. Perhaps it just doesn't matter to us anymore that convicted criminals can come in and out of our State with carefree abandon. After all, we treat Irish criminals with such reverence it is unlikely that we are going to come down on criminals from outside the jurisdiction. We have bought in to the the EU project so much now that we accept all its legislative lunacy as a necessity -- whatever the consequences.

John O'Keeffe is dean of the law school at Dublin Business School incorpor-ating Portobello College