YOUNG Irish people are being warned not to flout foreign laws abroad as figures show Britain is home to the largest number of overseas Irish prisoners.
The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) has this week launched a social media awareness campaign to encourage young people to respect laws and customs when travelling, living and working abroad.
The ICPO campaign, entitled: ‘Good to Know Before You Go’, is a 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.
According to IPCO figures 1,148 of the 1,256 Irish prisoners abroad are serving their sentence in England and Wales. The figure is a huge leap from 387 prisoners in English and Welsh jails in 2010. In addition 13 Irish prisoners are serving sentences in Scotland.
Joanna Joyce, ICPO Coordinator, 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, for example, 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.”
The new campaign emphasises the importance of being aware of cultural differences and of adhering to local laws and customs.
It is also hoping to raise awareness of services so that those who get into difficulty can access available pastoral and other supports.
The ICPO is currently providing support to 1,256 prisoners overseas with the vast majority of Irish prisoners overseas being detained in Britain.
Ms Joyce added: “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.”
The campaign, funded by the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, was launched in the departures area of Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport.
It was attended by Bishop John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert and chair of the Irish Bishop’s Council for Emigrants, who spoke of the ICPO’s work and especially that of the organisation in London.
He said: “I had an opportunity to witness first-hand the essential outreach of the ICPO when I visited Wormwood Scrubs prison in London last year with Father Gerry McFlynn, manager of the ICPO London office. As we walked through the landings, meeting and speaking with Irish prisoners, I heard some very sad and troubling stories.”
He added: “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.”
The ICPO was established by the Bishops’ Conference in 1985, in response to serious concerns regarding the number of Irish men and women in British prisons.