By Sarah Mac Donald - 13 September, 2014
Irish prisoners overseas are one of the most marginalised groups of Irish emigrants: Bishop
Drugs and alcohol abuse are contributing to Irish emigrants committing offences and spending time in foreign prisons according to Bishop John Kirby.
The Bishop, who is Chairman of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants, warned that Irish prisoners overseas are one of the most marginalised groups of Irish emigrants.
He said they face many difficulties, including discrimination, language barriers, and dealing with an unfamiliar legal system.
Bishop Kirby was speaking on Friday at the launch of a new information campaign by the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas’ (ICPO) which encourages young emigrants to exercise caution and look out for each other while travelling, living and working abroad.
In some countries, prison conditions are a major cause of concern and prisoners experience extreme hardship, with limited access to food, water and medical treatment.
Recalling his visit to Wormwood Scrubs prison in London last year with Fr Gerry McFlynn, manager of the ICPO London office, Bishop Kirby said he had an opportunity to witness first-hand the essential outreach of the ICPO.
“As we walked through the landings, meeting and speaking with Irish prisoners, I heard some very sad and troubling stories. It was clear to me that the support provided by the ICPO is crucial, both during a period of imprisonment and at the time of a prisoner’s release.”
“After nearly thirty years of existence, I can only describe the pastoral and humanitarian service offered by the ICPO as exemplary,” the Bishop of Clonfert added.
He noted that in addition to the ICPO, there are many other pastoral groups caring for vulnerable Irish emigrants overseas.
“Today, along with the ICPO, I wish to recognise and salute the trojan work of the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, the Irish Apostolate USA, and the Irish Chaplaincy in Sydney.”
“Our staff and volunteers work tirelessly to meet the needs of Irish emigrants of all generations, and in doing so fulfil an essential mission of the gospels: to love God and love your neighbour.”
Joanna Joyce of the ICPO in Maynooth said that in her organisation’s experience alcohol is a feature in many offences committed by younger emigrants in Irish communities overseas.
“As well as the serious sanctions applied by authorities abroad to those who transgress the law in the area of drugs and alcohol, it is important that our emigrants take care of their mental health as this often suffers due use of drugs and alcohol.”
“We are calling on all Irish emigrants, both men and women, to take care of themselves and each other overseas.”
These materials are available on the new ICPO website and will be made available to Citizens Information Centres and third level colleges.
The campaign has been launched in response to the current wave of emigration and an increase in the number of Irish people breaking the law and becoming prisoners in certain jurisdictions.
At the departures area of Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport, the Bishop of Clonfert said the Catholic Church is “committed to supporting the pastoral needs of our people abroad. Since the 1950s Irish chaplaincies, and since 1985 the ICPO, have reached out to our emigrants in need of help, and who find themselves voiceless: often vulnerable, isolated and alone.”
Bishop Kirby thanked Mr Alan Brogan (32) for attending the launch in order to give a personal account of his own recent emigrant experience in Sydney and New York.
He also thanked the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade for funding this campaign under its Emigrant Support Programme.
The Bishop acknowledged the work of the Consular Assistance Unit of the Department, and its Irish embassies and consulates, for the excellent support provided to Irish prisoners overseas and to the ICPO.
Speaking at the launch Joanna Joyce, Coordinator of the ICPO Maynooth office said, “Traditionally the majority of Irish prisoners overseas have been detained in the UK, but it is likely that the recent wave of emigration will result in an increase in the number of Irish prisoners in other parts of the world.
In the last two years, the ICPO has seen an increase in the number of young emigrants committing an offence and spending a period of time in prison in Australia.
“In our experience alcohol is a feature in many offences committed by younger emigrants in Irish communities overseas. As well as the serious sanctions applied by authorities abroad to those who transgress the law in the area of drugs and alcohol, their use often causes serious mental health problems amongst our emigrants,” she said.
She encouraged emigrants to reach out to their local chaplaincy for pastoral support, or if in difficulty to connect with their Irish immigration centre for advice and support.
The ‘Good to know before you go’ video can be viewed at www.icpo.ie and on the ICPO’s Facebook page and on Twitter @ICPOprisoners.
The ICPO is currently providing support to 1,256 prisoners overseas.