The eligible prisoners include convicted killer Raymond Donovan from Cooraclare, West Clare who was convicted of the murder of Ann Walsh in a churchyard 16 years ago.
Donovan had been going out with Ann Walsh for three years when he murdered her in the grounds of St. Senan’s Church in Kilrush, Co. Clare on August 24th, 2005.
He was subsequently given a life sentence by Mr. Justice Paul Carney.
Ann’s family spoke out against Donovan’s impending release earlier this week with her brother Stephen Walsh saying Donovan should have ‘stayed behind bars.’
In a statement released earlier today, the Irish Prison Service said the 70 inmates to be given Christmas Temporary Release (TR) represents less than 2% of the overall prisoner population and the number is lower than in the years pre-Covid.
The corresponding numbers released for Christmas in 2018, 2019 and 2020 were 137, 113 and 37 respectively.
The figure for temporary release this Christmas has increased compared to 2020 but remains low compared to previous years.
The IPS said the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions have impacted on the overall number of prisoners applying for Christmas temporary release for a number of reasons.
The reduced number of inmates in custody has led to a reduced pool of eligible prisoners while some of the prisoners considered eligible declined to avail of Christmas temporary release due to the risk of contracting Covid-19 whilst in the community.
The IPS statement said: “Many of the prisoners being released are nearing the end of their sentences and the overriding concern when considering the applications is the safety of the public and the concerns of victims.
“The important issues around the sensitivities of victims has also been carefully taken into account and additional specific conditions will also apply in relation to registered victim liaison cases.
“Furthermore, all registered victims with the Irish Prison Service Victim Liaison Service will be informed in the cases where prisoners are receiving Christmas Temporary Release.
“In addition to compassionate and humane considerations, other criteria taken into account include the nature and gravity of the offence, length of sentence served to date, prior record on temporary release, behaviour while in custody and previous criminal history.”
The IPS said the periods of release vary from a few hours up to 7 nights.
All releases are subject to stringent conditions and any offender who breaks these conditions may be arrested and returned immediately to prison by the Gardaí.