New HRC research on immigration-related detention in Ireland

New report criticises garda immigration policy

Cormac O'Keeffe

Irish Examiner, 2 November 2005

Garda policy towards people refused entry into Ireland has been strongly criticised in a new report.

Garda immigration officers told researchers that people denied entry did not have the same rights as people in the country.

The report said this policy - outlined by the head of the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) Chief Supt Derek Byrne - had been rejected by European courts.

"The head of the GNIB asserted that, if the person concerned have been refused permission to land, they have not entered the territory of Ireland and, consequently, are not entitled to the rights which would be available to a person present on Irish territory," said the report.

The study, written by international human rights lawyer Mark Kelly, said this argument had been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights nine years ago.

The court ruled that people in transit zones at an international airport were on the territory of the State and fully entitled to the protection of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The report, Immigration-related detention in Ireland, said Irish law and practice did not "adequately protect" the rights of people refused permission to land as well as people detained pending deportation.

The report found that 9,700 people had been denied entry to Ireland over the years of 2003 and 2004.

© Irish Examiner

The Executive Summary of the report is set out below, and the full 71-page report can be downloaded (in PDF format) by clicking here.


Mark Kelly, Human Rights Consultants



Until recently, it was comparatively rare for people to be detained for immigration-related reasons in Ireland. However, over the last few years, a range of statutory detention powers has been introduced to authorise the detention - in Garda Síochána stations and prisons - of:

• people refused permission to land

• applicants for asylum and

• people due to be deported.

In addition, people may be held in prison on remand (i.e. awaiting trial) for immigration-related reasons.   Official figures published for the first time in this report show that, in 2003-2004, a total of 2,798 people were held in prison for immigration-related reasons. In 2004, some two thirds of those detained were held in prison for periods of longer than 51 days. 

The legal framework for immigration detention in Ireland  

The report provides a detailed description of the legal framework that applies to immigration-related detainees, outlines the legal authority on which people can be detained, lists the authorised places of detention in which they can be held, and identifies possibilities for them to appeal against their detention and/or request that its legality be reviewed. This is the first time that an up-to-date synthesis of the law in this area has been published.   The report also examines the formal legal safeguards that are offered to persons detained for immigration-related reasons and benchmarks these against international human rights standards.  

As matters stand, Irish law and practice do not adequately protect the rights of people refused permission to land and people detained pending deportation. Such persons are not being informed in writing, in a language that they understand, of their right to challenge the legality of their detention and/or the validity of a decision to remove them from the State. Moreover, the law does not formally recognise their rights to inform a person of their choice of their situation, to have access to a lawyer and to have access to medical care. Nor are such people being systematically provided with written information in a language that they understand in order to explain the legal procedures that apply to them and to outline their rights.

The rights of detained asylum seekers are more fully protected in Irish law; however, the report identifies a number of areas where improvements are required, including as regards the precise nature and content of their rights to inform a person of their choice of their situation and to have access to a lawyer as from the very outset of their detention.

The report contains recommendations designed to bring Irish law and practice in these areas into conformity with international human rights standards.

Life in prison for immigration-related detainees

Over 90% of the persons detained for immigration-related reasons in Ireland are held in one of two prisons in Dublin: Cloverhill Prison (which holds male detainees) and the Dóchas Centre at Mountjoy Prison (which accommodates female detainees). Private interviews were carried out with male and female third country nationals held for immigration-related reasons in both of these establishments.

On the basis of those interviews, and of an independent examination of the living conditions at Cloverhill and the Dóchas Centre, the report provides a description of life in prison for immigration-related detainees. It concludes that neither Cloverhill Prison nor the Dóchas Centre provide an appropriate environment in which to hold immigration detainees.

Cloverhill Prison accommodates immigration detainees in overcrowded conditions - three to an 11m² cell - together with people suspected of criminal offences. They are locked in their cells for more than seventeen hours a day and significant restrictions - including closed visiting arrangements - are placed on their contacts with the outside world.

Although conditions at the Dóchas Centre are better in certain respects (e.g. open visits and more time unlocked), immigration detainees held there appear to be bearing the brunt of the establishment's overcrowding problems. Indeed, two of them were found to be sleeping on mattresses placed directly on the floor of an 8m² office. Moreover, immigration detainees at the Dóchas Centre are held together with people on remand and convicted prisoners.

The report recommends that, for so long as immigration detainees continue to be held at Cloverhill and the Dóchas Centre, they should be kept in more spacious living conditions. It also recommends a number of other specific measures designed to improve the quality of their daily lives. These include providing all newly-admitted detainees with an information booklet including details about life in the establishment, and about the legal rights and entitlements of immigration detainees. That booklet should be made available in the languages most commonly spoken by those detained for immigration-related reasons.

The holding of immigration detainees in Irish prisons has been repeatedly criticised by authorities including the Council of Europe, the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, the Visiting Committees of the establishments concerned and the National Prison Chaplains.

The findings of this independent research report serve to confirm that prisons are, by definition, inappropriate places in which to hold immigration detainees. It recommends that the practice of holding immigration detainees in prisons in Ireland be brought to an end.

In those cases where it is deemed necessary to deprive persons of their liberty for an extended period under immigration legislation, the report stresses that they should be accommodated in centres specifically designed for that purpose, offering material conditions and a regime appropriate to their legal situation and staffed by suitably qualified personnel.

Future prospects

Finally, the report looks to the future; it recommends that the legislative changes necessary to bring Irish law on immigration-related detention into conformity with international human rights standards be incorporated into the Government's forthcoming Immigration and Residence Bill.

1 November, 2005

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