President Higgins addresses conference in Dublin Castle for Irish overseas prisoners and their families

01 Dec 2015

  • New research published on the resettlement needs of Irish people returning from prison overseas

The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO), a pastoral outreach of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, today hosts its 30th anniversary conference ‘Reaching Out – Supporting Irish Prisoners Overseas and their Families’.  President Michael D Higgins, Uachtarán na hÉireann, will address the conference which takes place in Dublin Castle.

Bishop John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert and chair of the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants, will open the conference which will be chaired by Mr Mark Hennessy, news editor of The Irish Times.  Mr Charlie Flanagan TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will deliver the closing address. The conference will explore the practical, policy and pastoral issues which apply to this uniquely vulnerable category of Irish emigrant.

Today’s conference will see the publication of new research entitled A Step At A Time – The Resettlement Needs of Irish People Returning From Prison Overseas.  Amongst the report’s findings include the following:

– Access to suitable accommodation and pre-existing family support are of primary import in terms of resettlement of ex-prisoners.  Stable and secure accommodation upon release from prison was viewed by all participants as the most important factor in moving away from criminality;

– Family support is important in aiding resettlement and family contact and family prison visits should be encouraged and supported, in order to allow the prisoner and their family to maintain a relationship with one another, not just in order to cope with prison but also with a view to release.  These benefits will be shared by the prisoner, their family and society at large in terms of pro-social resettlement;

– Irish prisoners overseas seeking or being compelled to resettle in Ireland face additional challenges when compared to prisoners being released from an Irish prison;

– Amendments to current practise regarding the dispensation of statutory benefits are needed to better assist this group on their return from prison overseas;

– The means by which a former overseas prisoner returns to Ireland (i.e. deportation, voluntary return, prisoner transfer, under probation supervision) will impact on their resettlement needs;

– On their return, many prisoners possess significant mental and physical health problems associated with their imprisonment overseas.  Irish Foreign National Prisoners should be included in any national scheme relating to the provision of medical cards prior to release.  Increased facilitation should be provided to returning ex-prisoners to access health care supports promptly upon their release and return to Ireland.  Additional work is required to identify suitable counselling and related support services for those FNPs who require it, including around addiction;

– Access to relevant education, training and employment opportunities can be difficult for some ex-prisoners on their return due to their poor literacy skills, distance from education and training facilities, and a lack of employment prospects in their catchment area.


  • The research report A Step At A Time – The Resettlement Needs of Irish People Returning From Prison Overseas, and available speeches from today’s conference, are on and  The research was commissioned by the ICPO and was conducted in two stages.  The first was to engage in a general review of the literature on resettlement and of Foreign National Prisoners.  The second stage involved conducting a series of semi-structured interviews with ex-prisoners who returned to Ireland, and with resettlement service providers and with ICPO staff
  • For pictures for use by media, please contact the conference photographer John McElroy for pictures on +353 (0) 87 241 6985 and on [email protected]
  • About the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas: It is estimated that, at any one time, there are up to 1,200 Irish people in prison overseas.  The ICPO was established in 1985 and it works for Irish prisoners overseas wherever they are: and makes no distinction in terms of religious faith; the nature of a prison conviction or of a prisoner’s status.  ICPO has contact with Irish people in prison in more than 30 countries around the world.  The ICPO offers a comprehensive service to prisoners and to prisoner families which includes: provision of information on repatriation and deportation, assists in making referrals to post release support agencies for those returning to Ireland, a hardship fund for prisoners where access to food, water and medical treatment are very real concerns. Loneliness and isolation is common amongst Irish people imprisoned overseas.  The ICPO operates an extensive prison visiting programme in Britain and elsewhere and provides a newsletter twice yearly to its clients.  ICPO provides a pen friend scheme, language books and dictionaries where needed. In recognition of the hardship endured by prisoner’s families, ICPO offers assistance with prison visits, information about the different issues affecting their loved one in prison and holds a Family Day each year.
  • ICPO 30th anniversary conference, ‘Reaching Out – Supporting Irish Prisoners Overseas and their Families’ programme:

Chair: Mark Hennessy, News Editor, The Irish Times

09:45   Opening Address

Bishop John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert, Chair, Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants

10:00   The early days of ICPO

            Nuala Kelly, First Coordinator of ICPO

10:30   President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins

10:55   BREAK (President Higgins will depart at 11.15)

11.20   Resettlement Needs of Returning Ex-Prisoners to Ireland

            Paul Gavin, Researcher, ICPO commissioned report

11.55   Current Trends and Contemporary Challenges Facing Prisoners Overseas and the Organisations That Support Them

Pauline Crowe, OBE, Chief Executive, Prisoners Abroad

12:30   Questions & Answers

12:45   LUNCH

14:00   The Right Type of Education – A Briefing on Education and Training Provision for Gypsy and Irish Traveller Prisoners in England and Wales

            Ellena Costello, Policy Officer, Traveller Equality Project, Irish Chaplaincy

14:20   The importance of a Pastoral Outreach to Prisoners Overseas

            Father Gerry McFlynn, Manager, ICPO London office

14:40   Family Matters – The Impact of Overseas Imprisonment on Families

Claire O’Connell, ICPO Caseworker and Family Support Worker

A mother with a son imprisoned overseas will speak about her experiences

15:00   Questions & Answers

15:15   Looking to the future

Brian Hanley, Coordinator, ICPO Maynooth office

15.30 Closing Address

Mr Charles Flanagan TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

15.40 Concluding remarks by Conference Chair, Mark Hennessy.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office attending in Dublin Castle, Brenda Drumm 00 353 87 310 4444