An EU deal on the compulsory repatriation of foreign prisoners in Britain to their home territories will not include some 780 Irish prisoners in jail in England and Wales.
Irish prisoners are the second-largest foreign contingent in jails in England and Wales. The Polish are the largest group, with 928 prisoners as of December 2013.
The EU legislation, known as the EU Prison Transfer Agreement, follows Europe-wide agreement.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman told The Irish Post: “All member states, including Ireland, are expected to have implemented the European Union Prisoner Transfer Agreement by the end of this year.
"Given the unique relationship between the UK and Ireland, and the logistics of the Common Travel Area, we do not routinely consider Irish nationals for deportation, nor do we make compulsory prison transfers. We are in discussions with the Irish Government to determine ways to ensure more transfers take place.
"We expect Ireland will implement the European Union Prisoner Transfer Agreement by the end of 2014. After this date, countries that fail to do so are at risk of infraction (e.g. potentially a fine) by the EU. The UK implemented the EUPTA in December 2011.”
The Ministry of Justice statement also said that the authorities routinely remove foreign prisoners, or those who have served their sentences, from Britain.
They added: “Prisoner transfer is just one way foreign national prisoners are removed from the UK. The Home Office continues to remove significant numbers of foreign nationals either through the Early Removal Scheme or once their sentence has been completed.
"However, the Home Office do not routinely seek the deportation of Irish Prisoners because the Common Travel Area enables free movement between the UK and Ireland.”
Prisoners can apply to serve part of their remaining time in their own country under the early removal scheme. But only 13 Irish prisoners have been transferred since 2007.
Keeping the 780 Irish prisoners in England and Wales costs the British taxpayer something in the region of £27m annually. If they are repatriated, it will put great strain on the already over-crowded prison regime in Ireland.
The EU legislation also applies to Scotland. However, the Scottish legal system is separate from England and Wales.
It is believed that more than 250 foreign prisoners are locked up in Scottish prisons, at a cost of some £9m. Figures for the exact breakdown of the nationalities were not available.