Written by Lucy CB

Ireland – well known for its folk music, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and Guinness – less well known for its strict drug laws…

With Ireland being such a short trip away, it is easy for many British travellers to assume that Irish laws and customs are not so different from those at home. Yet with roughly 3 million British nationals visiting Ireland each year, it is important to be aware of the legal differences.

What do I need to know to stay out of trouble?

The Irish legal and prison systems differ from those in England, with laws relating to drugs being much harsher. Sentences in Ireland vary greatly depending on the seriousness of the crime. However, there is zero tolerance to drug related crimes. Possession of even small quantities of any kind of drug (cannabis, cocaine etc.) can lead to a long term of imprisonment. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, a member of the police (called “An Garda Síochána”) can arrest any person without warrant who is under suspicion of possession of drugs with the intent of selling. It is a public order offence to be drunk in a public place. If a Garda suspects that you are intoxicated, you can be prosecuted and fined up to €500. 

What happens if I do end up in an Irish prison?

Prisoners Abroad are currently supporting 22 prisoners in Ireland. The British Embassy in Dublin can provide help and advice to any British National who gets into trouble. So, if you are arrested or detained, you should contact the Embassy as soon as possible. The British Embassy aims to contact the arrested person within 24 hours of hearing of their arrest. Every person is entitled to make one call from the Garda Station on their arrival to a prison. You can call a family member and also ask the prison officers to put you in contact with a local solicitor.

The FCO and British Embassy in Ireland can provide information to the arrested person about the country, prison conditions, local lawyers and interpreters. Importantly, they will help you contact your friends and family and also make sure the prison you are in are aware of any medical problems that need attending to. The British consulate, working alongside Prisoners Abroad, help ensure that “you are treated properly and fairly in accordance with local regulations…no less favourably than other prisoners.” They will put you in touch with Prisoners Abroad and, with your permission, take up any justified concerns about ill-treatment, personal safety, or discrimination with the prison authorities.

What are the conditions like?

The old Irish prison system, described as a “place of violence, chronic overcrowding and substance abuse for many decades”, has undergone serious positive changes in recent years. Refurbishment projects, installation of in-cell sanitation, and rewards introduced for prisoners with good behaviour has drastically improved conditions, although fears that overcrowding may once again be on the rise are spreading as the daily prisoner population continues to increase.

Prison conditions in Ireland are generally adequate. Out of the 14 institutions within the Irish Prison System, all provide basic toiletries, standard clothing and linen. Each prison contains an ‘enhanced wing’, meaning that prisoners rewarded for good behaviour are placed on a wing with better facilities. Most female prisoners are accommodated separately in the “Dochas Centre” or in Limerick prison. There is rarely a problem with arranging family and friends to visit, although each prison has different rules about the number of visits that each person can receive. A list of visiting rules and conditions of each prison in Ireland can be found here, and prisons usually require a list of visitor names to be provided before visits can be arranged.

Mobile phones are not allowed in Irish prisons, and you can be fined up to €5,000 or have up to a year added onto your sentence if found with one. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for some belongings to go missing after an individual is arrested, or during prison transfers. You should check with the prison that your belongings taken from you have arrived at the prison and inform the prison Governor if anything is missing. Drug trafficking within prisons continues to be widespread. While any prisoner caught with any illegal drugs may have a term added to their sentence or be sent to confinement, for a British National in an Irish prison, this could also mean bail is denied as well.

…That’s not to scare you off!

Ireland is a beautiful country with a rich culture and lots to offer. An awareness of the zero tolerance drugs law and a bit of common sense will help ensure that you stay out of trouble. Most visits to Ireland are indeed trouble-free. Before setting off, make sure to check out the FCO Travel Advice page for Ireland and keep up to date with the Travel Aware website to help you keep safe and healthy on your travels.