Irish Bishops Reach Out to Prisoners Abroad

Prelate: Church Is the Center of Many Migrants

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DUBLIN, NOV. 9, 2010 ( A conference in Dublin today is marking the 25th anniversary of the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, a pastoral outreach established by the Catholic bishops of Ireland in 1985.

The conference focused on the theme, «Bridging the Distance — Supporting Irish Prisoners Overseas and Their Families.»

Bishop Seamus Hegarty of Derry, chair of the Council for Emigrants of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, addressed the conference participants, noting that «it is estimated that at any one time, there are between 800 and 1,000 Irish people in prison overseas.»

He reported that the council «has contact with Irish people in prisons in more than twenty countries, the majority of whom are in the United Kingdom, followed by the United States, Australia and a range of countries in Europe, South and Central America and the Far East.»

The prelate affirmed that the council «works for all Irish prisoners wherever they are: It makes no distinction in terms of religious faith, the nature of the prison conviction, or of a prisoner’s status.»

Among other things, the council «provides information to prisoners on issues such as repatriation and deportation, and assists in making referrals to post-release support agencies for those returning to Ireland in need of such support,» he explained.

The bishop continued: «It lobbies prison authorities, state officials and others, on the needs of its clients whether they are of a legal, medical, educational or practical nature.

«A hardship fund allows [the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas] to provide grants to prisoners where access to food, water and medical treatment are very real concerns.»


«Loneliness and isolation is common amongst Irish people imprisoned overseas,» he observed, and thus the council «operates an extensive prison visiting program in Britain and elsewhere and provides a newsletter twice yearly to its clients.»

The council also helps the prisoners’ families by offering assistance with prison visits, providing information about relevant issues affecting their loved one in prison and organizing a family information and support day each year.

«The hospitality of the Gospel is directed at those who are vulnerable and are in need,» Bishop Hegarty said. «This is the tradition that we at the Irish Council for Emigrants and the Irish Council for Prisoners inherit and aspire to.»

He added, «We are asked to bring this rich and inspiring tradition to bear on the challenges we face today.»

«As we mark this 25th anniversary of the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas,» the prelate said, «we think of all migrants who seek new hope and new opportunity.»

He continued, «We commit to removing barriers that impede the progress of the human person who has right to share the goods of this world.»

«There is a growing amount of literature which reveals that for many migrants, the Church is the center of their lives outside of their jobs,» said the bishop. «These findings highlight that the tradition of migrant care is not just a feature of bygone days, it is a living tradition that we are privileged to participate in.»

He concluded, «Let us truly honor this privilege by taking time today to discern how we can better serve Irish prisoners abroad and their families.»

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