Bishops’ council for  prisoners overseas welcomes passing of the Mutual Recognition of Custodial Sentences Bill

24 Feb 2023

  • “I believe that the Bill can form the basis for a workable prisoner transfer system” – Bishop Paul Dempsey

The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO), a pastoral outreach established by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, has today welcomed the passage of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Custodial Sentences) Bill 2021 through the Oireachtas this week. 

Bishop Paul Dempsey, chairperson of the ICPO, said, “while we have reservations regarding some provisions of the Bill, and know that it won’t assist everyone interested in applying for repatriation, we believe that it can form the basis for a workable prisoner transfer system.”

Bishop Dempsey continued “This is long overdue, it is now almost seven years since the last Irish prisoner was transferred to serve out their sentence in Ireland.  In recent years, the transfer process has been beset by delays, with applications often taking several years to be processed.  It is widely recognised that serving a sentence close to family, and other social supports, facilitates rehabilitation.  This context not only benefits prisoners but also their families and wider society.”

The number of Irish prisoners seeking to apply to serve their sentence in an Irish prison each year is small, with 154 prisoners having been transferred since the scheme began in 1996.  In order for this legislation to fulfil its purpose and facilitate the transfer of those Irish prisoners who wish to return and serve their sentence here, the following conditions must also be met:

  • The Irish Prison Service (IPS) and other agencies involved in processing applications must be properly resourced to enable them to fulfil their functions in an expeditious manner.  The Probation Service and any other agencies involved in the supervision of transferred prisoners released on conditional release must also be appropriately resourced;
  • All sections of the legislation must be commenced without delay to ensure that Irish prisoners in certain jurisdictions including the UK are not deprived of the opportunity to apply to transfer;
  • The provisions of the legislation are complex and technical and it is essential that prisoners are given timely and detailed information regarding the consequences of any transfer, particularly regarding any additional time to be spent in custody;
  • The legislation should be applied in a consistent manner and where individuals would be automatically due for (conditional) release at a certain period of their sentence in the sentencing country, this would be adhered to in Ireland except in exceptional cases; and,
  • The legislation will not apply to certain type of sentences including where a tariff (minimum period) must be served.  We welcome the commitment of the Minister for Justice to revisit this should tariffs be introduced subsequently in this jurisdiction.


Notes for Editors

  • Bishop Paul Dempsey is Bishop of Achonry and chairperson of the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
  • The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas is a pastoral outreach established by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland in 1985. The ICPO works with in excess of one thousand Irish people who are in prisons in thirty-three countries around the world.
  • The ICPO has worked with Irish prisoners repatriating to Ireland since transfers began in 1995 and has considerable experience in monitoring these applications with the cooperation of the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice. 
  • ICPO wishes to acknowledge the constructive engagement of Department of Justice officials with ICPO over the last 18 months and for their commitment to passing legislation that will, we hope, prove a fair and workable process.