Prisoners released in Ireland due to loophole in system

Prisoners released in Ireland due to loophole in system

TEN Irish prisoners, who were transferred from jails in Britain, have been released early due to a loophole in the law, it has emerged.

The prisoners – including three men who were found guilty of plotting an IRA bombing in Britain – were released from prison in Ireland last year.

It is believed that the loophole emerged after one of the prisoners in question challenged his sentence, on the grounds that he was jailed under British laws as opposed to those in Ireland.

In Britain, prisoners can be released on licence after serving two-thirds of their sentence – as opposed to three quarters in Ireland.

The prisoners in question were then able to apply for a release on licence, as their sentences were handed down in Britain – and had they remained here, they would have been eligible for release.

It is understood that applications for prisoner transfers from Britain to Ireland are now all on hold – as Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald prepares to go to the Supreme Court to clarify the laws on matters such as this.

Among those who have also been freed are three men who were charged under Britain's 2000 Terrorism Act and with conspiracy to cause explosions in London, as well as a prisoner jailed for 16 years for smuggling heroin.

Sligo native Vincent Sweeney, who was sent to prison in 2006 for smuggling €3million worth of heroin and cannabis into England, was transferred to Ireland in 2008 under the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Act.

His was the first case to be re-examined of the prisoners who were freed; as he argued successfully for an early release due to him being under the English regime.

Following the ruling from his Supreme Court appeal last July, three other men – Fintan O’Farrell, Declan Rafferty and Michael McDonald, all from Co. Louth – followed suit.

The three had been convicted in 2002 of attempting to buy weapons and explosives for an intended Real IRA bombing campaign here in Britain.

They were sentenced to 30 years in jail, reduced to 28 years on appeal. They were transferred to Ireland in 2006 – and were released from Portlaoise Prison in December of last year.

Minister Fitzgerald also revealed in her Oireachtas report that six further unnamed prisoners had been released on the same grounds – and that it could set a precedent.

The department said, in a statement released yesterday: “The department has been considering the implications of the Fintan O’Farrell, Michael McDonald, Declan Rafferty v Governor Portlaoise Prison judgment for future cases of prisoner management, including whether any changes to the current legislation may be necessary.”