News archive 2005

DOING TIME: IRISH PRISONERS OVERSEAS AND THEIR FAMILIES 20th anniversary conference of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas

PRESS RELEASE

14 NOVEMBER 2005

DOING TIME: IRISH PRISONERS OVERSEAS AND THEIR FAMILIES

20th anniversary conference of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas

* Bishop Seamus Hegarty: “while in prison, a person may have to give up
on their liberty, but not on their soul.”
* Archbishop Seán Brady: “The Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas is
a truly wonderful ministry. I pay tribute to your provision of an invaluable
service.”
* President Mary McAleese: “As torchbearers for human rights for Irish
prisoners abroad, you have provided vital pastoral services to prisoners,
and their families, and have been a voice for their rights and dignity
as human beings.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) hosted
a conference today in Dublin to mark its 20th anniversary. The theme of
the conference was ‘Doing Time: Irish Prisoners Overseas and their Families’.

Opening the conference, Bishop Seamus Hegarty said: “The Irish Commission
for Prisoners Overseas is currently the only organisation working on behalf
of Irish prisoners overseas and their families. Their welfare and needs are
important to us.

“So as to best focus our resources, we recently undertook a survey amongst
prisoner families in order to evaluate the needs of Irish prisoners overseas
regarding the service provided by the ICPO and support services in general.
Our survey found that:

– families in need of ICPO support are not a homogenous group and include
parents, spouses, siblings, children and other relatives of prisoners
overseas;
– of the families who had been in touch with the ICPO for help, 93% said that
they were satisfied with the service they received;
– respondents emphasised the non-judgemental, caring and listening nature
of the ICPO service;
– the need for emotional and financial support was evident throughout the study;
– in particular, families found it difficult to finance a visit to support
their relative, or to meet the cost of basic prison supplies such as food,
clothing, stamps and phone cards;
– the lack of clear information and legal support services emerged as a
significant problem for families struggling with a foreign legal and
prison system;
– families were concerned about the lack of any post-release support services
available for their relative on release from prison.”

Bishop Hegarty said: “I welcome the recent Government appointment of former
Minister of State, Mr Chris Flood, to lead the first major study into Irish
prisoners abroad.”

Archbishop Seán Brady, President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, sent a
message of congratulations to the Commission: “I would like to take this
opportunity to wish the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas my very best
wishes on reaching such a magnificent landmark. I pay tribute to your
provision of an invaluable service to prisoners overseas and their families
here in Ireland. It is a truly wonderful ministry and I thank you, and
through you, your colleagues for all the dedicated work carried out on
behalf of the Irish Episcopal Conference.”

President Mary McAleese, one of the founding members of the Commission,
conveyed a special message to participants at the conference: “As a founding
member, I feel a tremendous sense of pride in being associated with the work
of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas and I would very much have
liked to be with you today to mark your 20th anniversary. Unfortunately,
unforeseen commitments have not made this possible.

“Being imprisoned abroad, often where they cannot speak the language, places
huge burdens on prisoners and their families. The cost of family visits,
even to England, can be prohibitive and is all the more painful at a time
like the present when we are all looking forward to Christmas. Prisoners’
families are so often multiple victims, suffering the emotional and financial
loss of a family member and the uncertainty of not knowing how that family
member is surviving among strangers.”

President McAleese continued: “The work that you do is never going to be easy,
which is what makes it so commendable. As torchbearers for human rights for
Irish prisoners abroad you have provided vital pastoral services to prisoners,
and their families, and have been a voice for their rights and dignity as
human beings. The work you have done to vindicate the rights and dignity of
prisoners comes from a sincere calling and concern for their plight, and the
plight of their loved ones at home. I am most grateful for that support and
practical help which the Commission has often given to keep these people, and
their families, going.

“For all the work you have done on behalf of Irish prisoners overseas, and
their families, I would like to say a heartfelt ‘comhghairdeachas agus go raibh
míle maith agaibh go léir’.”

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, spoke at the conference on the
issue of restorative justice. See www.catholiccommunications.ie/icpo for
full speech.

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

NOTES TO EDITORS
– Dr Seamus Hegarty is Bishop of Derry and Chair of the Irish Episcopal
Commission for Emigrants, which was established in 1957.
– The ICPO was set up by the Irish Bishops’ Conference in 1985 as a
sub-commission of its Emigrants Commission.
– The ICPO works for all Irish prisoners overseas wherever they are. The
Commission makes no distinction in terms of religious faith, the nature of
the prison conviction, or of a prisoner’s status.
– The objectives of the ICPO are to identify and respond to the needs
of Irish prisoners abroad and their families; research and provide relevant
information to prisoners on issues such as deportation, repatriation and
transfer; focus public attention on issues affecting Irish prisoners and
engage in practical work in aid of justice and human rights for Irish migrants,
refugees and prisoners at an international level.
– Fr Alan Hilliard, Director of the IECE, is chair of the conference and
speakers include:
Dr Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry and Chairman of the IECE;
Dr Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Chairman of the Department
of Social Issues and International Affairs of the Irish Bishops’ Conference;
Ms Gráinne Prior, Coordinator, Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas;
Fr Gerry McFlynn, Director of ICPO London office;
Ms Lucy Gampell, Director, Action for Prisoners Families UK;
Ms Helen Johnston, Director, Combat Poverty Agency;
Mr Ronan Bennett, Novelist;
Ms Nuala Mole, AIRE (Advice on Independent Rights in Europe).
– See www.catholiccommunications.ie/icpo for full details of the conference
speeches and biographies of speakers.
– Full details of ICPO family survey are also available at
www.catholiccommunications.ie/icpobelow. This survey was undertaken
by the Bishops’ Council for Research and Development:

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