FINE defaulters are being taxied hundreds of miles daily to Mountjoy Prison -- to be turned away and bussed home.
The farcical, costly practice has seen dozens of defaulters ferried to and from prison by cab and bus weekly.
Many of the taxi bills average around €150, with prisoners being taken from parts of Co Monaghan to the north inner city prison.
The transport is being paid for by the Department of Justice. In addition to the cash spend, garda resources are being used to accompany each prisoner to Dublin.
In most of the cases the fines are scrapped and the taxpayer coughs up again for a travel voucher for the defaulter's return journey -- on the bus.
The scandalous scenario has been confirmed by the Irish Prison Service, but it has been unable to give figures for the scale of the drain on State coffers.
Political pledges not to jail defaulters have been honoured but the daily and expensive charade of taking them to then jail continues.
Defaulters are being escorted to Dublin from counties Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, Meath and Westmeath.
On reaching Mountjoy the accompanying garda, acting on foot of a warrant for non-payment of the fine, presents the relevant documentation at the prison's reception.
However sources in the prison have told the Herald that within a short time the defaulter is dispatched on his homeward journey because of overcrowding.
One source said: "We are having four or five a day being chauffeur-driven here from as far away as the remote corners of Cavan and Monaghan. It's a joke -- at the taxpayers' expense.
"The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is contacted and indicates that the fine should be "mitigated to zero" and the prisoner released. He or she is then furnished with a bus pass for the return journey home."
On occasions prisoners have sought and been given a further subvention on the basis that the bus service does not take them to their local village.
They argue successfully that they have no money -- if they had they would have paid the fine in the first place.
In response to queries from the Herald the IPS said that sentences of imprisonment in lieu of the non-payment of a fine are generally granted early release from prison either by way of temporary release or by mitigating the fine.
A spokesman said that the majority of fine cases may only spend a few hours in custody with some offering some money towards their fine and the remainder mitigated.
"There are occasions whereby such a released prisoner may have no money with them at time of release. On such occasions and at the discretion of the governor a small amount of money may be given to the person to facilitate their journey home."
In 2009, almost 5,000 people were jailed for failing to pay fines, more than twice the number in 2008 and almost four times the figure for 2007.