Address by Minister Charles Flanagan T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade
Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas 30th Anniversary Conference
1st December 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a pleasure to join you all here today. I am particularly delighted to be able to address you to mark the 30th anniversary of the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (I.C.P.O.) and to acknowledge the incredible work that is done in the service of one of the most vulnerable groups of Irish citizens abroad.
I welcome this opportunity to reiterate our deep appreciation of the sensitive and effective work of I.C.P.O. Your work is of particular importance and value to those members of our community that are most at risk of exclusion.
Ireland is a country which has had a long experience with emigration and a resulting diaspora spread around the world. While for many emigration is an enriching and successful experience, for others the experience is more challenging.
Unfortunately a number of our citizens overseas find themselves incarcerated abroad, often in very challenging physical environments, with different cultural norms and languages.
My Department’s mission network now stretches to 80 locations around the world and we have diplomatic relations with 178 countries. The difference between 80 locations and 178 countries means we do not have resident Ambassadors in every country. Moreover, many of our missions are small – indeed, a significant number have only one or two diplomats.
The missions, in conjunction with the Department’s headquarters, handle up to 2,000 consular cases each year. While our resources are finite, providing support to our citizens is at the heart of the work of the Department and its missions.
Where a citizen is arrested or detained, we offer to inform the next of kin; provide information about prison arrangements; furnish a list of English speaking lawyers; assist with contact with family and friends; seek to ensure no discrimination on the basis of nationality; and alert relevant authorities to welfare concerns including health issues.
There is, inevitably, a limit to how much we can do. And that is where our partnership with organisations like the I.C.P.O is hugely valuable. I know that where citizens are detained overseas, the work of I.C.P.O.’s staff can be hugely impactful on an individual level.
The Government’s firm commitment to our community abroad is reflected in the very significant progress that we are making in advancing policies and supporting services that benefit our community abroad.
This has been most recently articulated in ‘Global Irish: Ireland’s Diaspora Policy’ which was launched in March of this year.
Our diaspora engagement spans the whole spectrum from engagement with leading Irish business people abroad, as evidenced by the Global Irish Economic Forum which took place here in Dublin Castle 10 days ago, to the more marginalised members of our community abroad.
In this regard, Irish citizens incarcerated abroad are often amongst the most vulnerable and overlooked and therefore are most deserving of our solidarity and compassion.
Our new Diaspora Policy restates our commitment to keep welfare at the heart of our diaspora engagement.
We are proud to continue supporting Irish people abroad and the Emigrant Support Programme is the most tangible expression of our commitment and interest in the global Irish community. Since its establishment in 2004, over €135 million has been disbursed in grants to Irish communities around the world.
Allied with this is the commitment to ensure marginalised groups such as prisoners overseas are supported in the best ways possible; taking account of their very unique situation.
As part of our Emigrant Support Programme funding I am particularly pleased that we have been in a position to fund the excellent work undertaken by I.C.P.O..
Since 2003, almost €3 million in funding has been provided towards these services. The services are provided through the I.C.P.O. main office in Maynooth and the London office, which specifically supports Irish people in prison in Britain, and their families.
In more than 20 countries abroad I.C.P.O. staff can often be the main link with home for over 1,000 imprisoned Irish people. For those who may have been forgotten by their individual families, I.C.P.O. ensure that their connection to the global Irish family is retained.
Through funding which my Department provides, I.C.P.O. staff can directly provide for the basic needs of our prisoners abroad in a manner which respects their dignity.
Beyond the day-to-day work which the organisation undertakes my Department has also provided funding for a number of discreet reports which I.C.P.O. have produced.
In particular I understand that ESP funding has been used to fund a report entitled: ‘A Step at a Time – The Resettlement Needs of Irish People Returning from Prison Overseas’ which has been launched at your Conference today. It is a very important contribution outlining the many particular challenges facing former prisoners returning to Ireland after a period of incarceration abroad.
As we are thankfully seeing more of our emigrants return to Ireland as the economy improves, it is very important to be reminded of the very particular needs of former prisoners who wish to return home, from accommodation, to health matters, to training.
Their experiences and indeed vulnerabilities require particular focus to ensure that they are properly integrated into their new life in Ireland.
I would also like to take the opportunity of my presence here today to thank the I.C.P.O. for working so closely over the years with my Department, both at home and abroad, as we assist these particularly vulnerable Irish citizens and their families.
I know that there is almost daily contact between I.C.P.O. officers with officials from my Department – in particular the Consular Division here in Dublin and Embassy London. For a small diplomatic service, having such an effective partner organisation as I.C.P.O. extends the outreach capacity of our Embassy network.
In conclusion, I wish to once again congratulate I.C.P.O. as it celebrates 30 years working on behalf of Irish prisoners abroad and their families. I would like to particularly congratulate Brian Hanley and thank him for the constructive engagement with my Department.
The work of this organisation in providing support and information to these prisoners and their families is invaluable and makes a very positive difference to those Irish citizens who find themselves in the most difficult circumstances.