Spain tops list of countries where Irish most likely to be arrested

Number of citizens in prison is highest in the United Kingdom, at 95 over five-year period

Spain heads the list of countries where Irish citizens are most likely to run into trouble with police, according to figures from the past five years detailing arrests and detentions around the world.

Every year the Department of Foreign Affairs assists with hundreds of such incidents involving a wide variety of offences.

Details of cases are never made public by the department but often surface in the media. Crimes can be as common as public order offences, sexual assaults and drugs possession, or behaviour deemed inappropriate to foreign cultures.

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Incidents recorded by the department are only those where assistance is requested by the individual in question.

Often that never happens and so the number of times Irish citizens run into trouble with the law is impossible to accurately quantify.

Figures released by the department under Freedom of Information legislation show that over a five-year period from 2010 to 2014, there were 1,315 arrests in over 40 countries .

The busiest year for arrests was 2012, when there were 292 incidents recorded.

Spain was by far the most common country in which Irish citizens were taken into police custody, with 474 arrests over the five-year period.

This was followed by Australia and the US (both 138 cases), the UK (102) and France (50). There were 44 arrests in the United Arab Emirates, including 17 in 2013.

In prison

The number of arrests tend to correlate with the popularity of countries with Irish visitors. For example, Spain is not only extremely popular with Irish sun seekers, it is also prominently linked to Irish criminals.

Records also show the department assisted in, or was contacted in, 229 cases of Irish citizens being incarcerated over the period.

The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) has said an estimated 1,100 Irish people are in foreign prisons at any given time over the last number of years, but many of those who find themselves in prison abroad decide not to seek State assistance.

The department recorded a peak of 72 new cases in 2011; the previous year it had just one case relating to the UK.

At 95, the UK had the highest level of foreign incarcerations over the period.

Contrasting starkly with the arrest rate, there were just 11 recorded cases of imprisonment from Spain, suggesting many may not have been brought to the department’s attention or that most offences are of a minor nature.

There were 13 cases in the US; three in the UAE; four in Germany and seven in France and Belgium.

Other countries that recorded a handful of incarcerations between them included Cambodia, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Korea.

Gold bars

Details of foreign arrests and detentions usually find their way into the public domain, even where individuals have not sought State assistance.

In October, a 23-year-old Irish man was reported to be facing 50 years behind bars in Thailand after allegedly attempting to sell a kilogram of cannabis to police officers.

In July, an Irish citizen was arrested at Kochi international airport in India after he was reported to have been hiding 10kg of gold bars worth about €350,000 in his waistcoat, jacket and trouser pockets .

Laws in the United Arab Emirates often catch travellers out. For example, possessing medication containing codeine without a prescription can land people in trouble, as can public displays of affection.

Penalties for carrying drugs can also be severe in many parts of the world, not least southeast Asia, even when the quantity is very small.

Under article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963, foreigners detained abroad must be notified of their right to consular assistance “without delay”.

However, detainees sometimes request that the embassy not be informed.

Department staff are instructed to get as much information as possible from people on first contact but the process can be delayed by numerous factors.

“The length of time before we can speak to a detainee also depends on local procedures and varies from country to country, and may be difficult in the initial period after arrest or court appearance where the citizen may be in transit from a police station to a holding cell, or being processed at a prison,” the department said.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times