Number of Irish jailed abroad falls due to Covid travel curtailments

In 2019, there were 243 citizens arrested – more than the number combined from both 2020 and 2021

Nearly 480 Irish citizens have been arrested abroad over the past three years where the Department of Foreign Affairs has been notified.

Another 81 were sent to jail – with most of the imprisonments happening in other European countries – according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Foreign Affairs said that not every Irish person who was arrested or imprisoned sought their assistance and there could be cases of which they were not made aware.

There has been a marked decrease in the numbers of Irish running into trouble with the law abroad as the Covid-19 pandemic massively curtailed opportunities for travel.


In 2019, there were 243 citizens arrested – more than the number combined from both 2020 (120 arrests) and 2021 (116 arrests).

The highest number of arrests by far took place in Europe with 315 people taken into custody in EU states or other parts of the continent.

There were another 70 arrests in Asia and the Middle East, 42 in North America, and 29 in Australia and the rest of Oceania.

The department was also notified of 17 arrests of citizens in Africa and just six for all of South and Central America.

The number of Irish passport holders jailed also declined dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic, the department figures reveal.

In 2019, there were 39 Irish jailed abroad – compared with 22 in 2020 and just 20 last year.

Of the 81 citizens imprisoned, 46 of them were locked up in Europe with a further 23 jailed in Australia or Oceania.

There were three Irish people jailed in Asia or the Middle East, six in North America, two in South or Central America, and just one in Africa.

The department declined to provide a breakdown according to the countries where arrests or imprisonments had taken place.

An information note said: “[The figures] have been provided in regional format in order to protect the identities of those citizens affected. In some countries, only one or a small number of cases have been recorded.”

The department added: “There may [also] be cases of arrest or imprisonment that the department is not notified of.”

They said non-judgmental advice and practical help was available to any person “regardless of the alleged offence and no matter whether you’re innocent or found guilty, on remand or already sentenced by a court of law”.

The department said practical help available included contacting family or friends, information on English-speaking lawyers, assistance to help avoid discrimination, raising concerns about safety and treatment, and information about prison arrangements.

Assistance which is not available includes getting people out of prison, paying fines, or giving guarantees to authorities on behalf of a person who was arrested.

They also said they were not in position to provide legal advice, financially support people while in prison, or to conduct investigations.

An information note added: “If it’s possible, and the country’s prison authorities allow, one of our staff may visit [the person in jail]. If it’s not possible, we can contact [them] by telephone.

“In most cases, visits are only possible after [the person has been] formally charged with an offence.”

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