Failure to hold a valid passport and/or visa among the main reasons for immigration detention in Ireland

24 Nov 2021

New EMN Ireland/ESRI research finds that alternatives to detention, such as regular reporting to a Garda Síochána station, are used routinely for persons being deported or transferred to other Member States. Nonetheless, in 2019, 477 people were detained in Irish prisons for immigration-related reasons, reducing to 245 people in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The main reasons for immigration-related prison committals include failure to hold a valid passport and failure to hold a valid visa. Ireland does not have a dedicated immigration detention facility and, where a decision to detain is taken, prisons and Garda Síochána stations are used instead. Detention in these facilities is typically for short periods.

This report examines the use of detention and alternatives to detention for immigration-related purposes in Ireland. The research is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network (EMN), which is funded in Ireland by the European Commission and the Department of Justice.

Use of detention and alternatives to detention in Ireland

Between 2015 and 2020, the main immigration-related reason for a committal to prison was failure to hold a valid passport. The second most common reason was failure to hold a valid visa. The use of detention varies depending on the immigration situation of the non-EU national concerned.

The main prison used for immigration detention for men is Cloverhill Prison in Dublin, with the Dóchas Centre used for women. Immigration detention also takes place in Garda Síochána stations and ports; however, data are not available on detention in these places. Ireland is the only EU Member State that does not have dedicated immigration detention facilities.

Alternatives to detention are non-custodial measures and are typically a combination of measures such as regular reporting to a Garda Síochána station and a requirement to reside at a specific place. The research found that alternatives are most frequently used in deportation order cases and Dublin transfer decision cases but are used in only a minority of cases of refusals of leave to land where detention is being considered.

Governmental and non-governmental stakeholders interviewed for the report described advantages in using alternatives, including greater personal liberty and the possibility of integration in the community, and that they entail lower costs and staffing requirements. Among the key challenges identified were high levels of absconding, as well as challenges faced by non-EU nationals themselves, such as transportation costs and a sense of being in limbo.

Fundamental rights and review

Legal remedies and access to legal representation in detention are among the key rights examined in the research. Only the detention of international protection applicants must be initially sanctioned by a District Court judge. This is not the case for the other three categories of persons ― persons subject to a deportation order, refused leave to land, or subject to a Dublin transfer decision. Any detained person can challenge the lawfulness of their detention under Article 40.4 of the Constitution. At ports of entry, NGOs and legal practitioners reported that legal remedies and legal representation are difficult to access, and legal aid is not available in practice.

In the Irish Government’s response to the 2020 European Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) report on Ireland, it indicated that a longer-term solution to immigration detention is being explored. The F Block in Cloverhill Prison has been identified as an interim solution. However, the Block is not currently in use due to COVID-19 isolation requirements.

For more information, see:

Detention and alternatives to detention in international protection and return procedure in Ireland: EMN Ireland national study