Irish Detainees Exempted In Deportation Of Foreign Prisoners

Dozens of Irish prisoners in England and Wales who were in detention centres facing deportation are to be released in the next week after the government announced they would be exempted from the drive to send foreign national prisoners home. The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, said Irish prisoners were to be treated as a “special case” and would only be sent back to Ireland in exceptional circumstances or where a judge had ordered their deportation following a criminal conviction.

The decision is a blow to Tony Blair’s promise made at the height of the foreign national prisoners crisis last year which led to the dismissal of Charles Clarke as home secretary. The prime minister said there should be a presumption of automatic deportation in the vast bulk of cases.

The decision follows diplomatic pressure from Dublin and after the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas submitted a dossier of more than 30 cases of inmates, some of whom have strong family ties in Britain or who have spent months in immigration detention centres after completing their sentence. Some of those facing deportation had lived in Britain since the 70s and even attended school in the UK.

“Those Irish prisoners whose cases are not considered exceptional, whose sentences have expired and who are currently in custodial detention awaiting deportation will be released over the next week,” said Mr Byrne.

The immigration service would not confirm how many prisoners would be immediately affected but it is thought that dozens will be released within the week.

The Home Office claimed the number of Irish prisoners in jails in England and Wales stands at 650 but the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas said the figure could be more than 1,000 – one of the largest groups of foreign nationals – and most will be affected by yesterday’s decision. The decision does not cover Irish prisoners in Northern Ireland.

The Irish foreign minister, Dermot Ahern, said the decision reflected the “close ties” and the common travel area between the two countries and would come as a great relief to individual prisoners and their families.

Grainne Prior of the ICPO, which acts under the auspices of the Irish Catholic bishops, said that many of the Irish prisoners who faced deportation had not only lived in the UK for many years but had families here, their children had attended English schools and were totally integrated into English society.

In some cases the prisoners themselves had been to school in England. Some were being sent back to a country where they had no family ties and faced being homeless.

In one case a man who had lived in the UK for more than 20 years, was married here, and has two teenage daughters who were born in Britain was sent back to Ireland despite representations from his MP.