More than 270 Irish people jailed overseas have sought consular assistance from the State since 2013.
That is according to figures provided by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, who said that his department last year provided consular assistance to Irish people jailed overseas in 53 new cases.
The Tánaiste said already this year his department has provided consular assistance to a further 11 Irish people in foreign jails.
Mr Coveney said that not every Irish prisoner abroad seeks consular assistance “and we estimate that, at any time, there are around 1,200 Irish men and women in detention overseas and, working with the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, we try to reach out and offer support to as many of these as we possibly can”.
The most high-profile case since 2013 of an Irish person detained overseas involved Ibrahim Halawa who was kept for four years in Egypt from August 2013 to October last.
"The Tánaiste said such a case “can be extremely difficult and complex, and can require the deployment of significant resources over a protracted period of time”.
In a written Dáil reply to Mattie McGrath, Mr Coveney said: “Every case is different and is considered and approached on its own merits. Some cases may last only a relatively short time, and the assistance needed may be quite straight- forward.
“It is impossible to provide precise statistics for the number of Irish citizens detained or imprisoned overseas.
"In some cases the individuals involved do not seek any assistance or do not want the Irish authorities to be informed of their situations. In some other cases, regrettably, local authorities sometimes fail to notify the Irish authorities of the imprisonment of our citizens.”
Of those who did seek consular assistance, Mr Coveney said that, in 2013, his department opened 55 cases in this category.
“In 2014, there were 52 new cases. 2015 saw 55 new cases. 2016 saw 45 new cases, and in 2017 53 new files in this category were opened,” he said. “In addition, there are a number of cases which were ongoing since prior to 2013 and for which assistance continued to be provided.”
Explaining the help provided, he said: “Our embassies and consulates provide direct assistance in many cases, through consular visits and practical advice and assistance to individual detainees, and our consular assistance team at HQ provides ongoing support and assistance to the families of such prisoners.”
Mr Coveney said the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, receives funding from the Emigrant Support programme.
“Support and assistance in all such cases is provided on a non-judgemental basis, irrespective of the offence of which the citizen has been accused or convicted,” he said.
“Beyond the cases where we are requested to provide direct assistance, through our partnership with the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, and in some cases also through other emigrant support organisations, we provide substantial indirect supports to a large number of other Irish prisoners.”
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