People picked up in N Ireland used to be detained within the prison system locally but are now sent to Larne House Short-term Residential Holding Unit, Larne, Co. Antrim. These immigration detainees can be held at Larne for a maximum of seven days prior to the majority being removed directly from the UK. A few are moved to Immigration Removal Centres in GB, or released – in some cases to apply for asylum.
Larne House can house up to 21 male and female detainees. It opened in 2011 as an alternative to holding people in police custody suites prior to removal or transfer to GB. The private company, Tascor runs the centre on behalf of the Home Office. It comprises the refurbished custody area of a police station and so is quite claustrophobic with small rooms, narrow corridors and little natural light. The staff, however, seem amenable to pre-arranged visits by friends and family. Concerns have been expressed that some detainees may not have been offered access to legal representation, although Immigration Minister Damien Green has stated that
People detained at Larne House are advised of their rights from the outset of detention. They are given access to legal advice at any time during their stay at the facility. Assistance provided includes help from immigration and custody staff, and information leaflets and posters about how and where to access legal advice. Detainees also have free phone and internet access and private rooms for meetings with legal representatives.
The NI Policing Board annual Human Rights Report for 2012 recorded concern over the continued use of police custody to hold immigration detainees; 228 people had been detained in this way for immigration offences between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2012 and there were a further 146 immigration detainees between 1 July 2011 and 31 March 2012. The board asked the PSNI to explain why UKBA were continuing to use police custody suites while Larne House is available. www.nipolicingboard.org.uk/human_rights_annual_report_online_version.pdf
In 2013 the Board was told that people were still detained in police cells because they had been arrested for having committed offences, but an agreement for the PSNI to be reimbursed for the time spent in police custody should speed up transfers to Larne.
NI Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) concerns
In April 2013 the NIHRC published its submission to the UN Committee Against Torture. www.nihrc.org/news/detail/nihrc-reports-to-un-committee-against-torture The chapter on immigration detention expressed concern that, in spite of the opening of the Larne House Short-Term Holding Unit, some people are still being detained for over six days in police custody suites that are unsuitable for this purpose (see above). They were also unhappy that detainees had to self-identify if they are victims of torture, rather than being identified by medical professionals. There was further anxiety that speed and secrecy of removals may prevent the identification of victims of trafficking. There was also concern that Larne House was not being inspected frequently enough by the Home Office, and the NIHRC wanted more information about oversight by the Independent Monitoring Board in Glasgow. No permanent arrangements had been put in place for lay custody visitors to inspect Larne House at that time. These concerns about human rights should not reflect negatively on the staff at Larne House. Detainees report fair treatment while they are there.
Prior to the opening of Larne House, Richard Kerr (in his capacity as Race Relations Panel Convenor of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland) had been in discussion with the UKBA about the provision of chaplaincy services to the Detention Unit. In 2011 a ‘religious advice and support group’, made up mainly of clergy from a number of denominations in the Larne area, was formed, and training and orientation was provided by UKBA and Reliance (who ran Larne House before Tascor). Members of this group visit the unit on a regular rota basis and are ‘on call’ as required. Interaction with staff and detainees has been largely positive and appreciated.
No statistics are published routinely but while Larne House will not be full on a regular basis, it is known that between February 2013 and January 2014 there were 2,035 ‘detainee movements’ at Larne House.
Amnesty International press release, ‘Northern Ireland concerns at immigration detention revelations – 2,000 NI detainees last year’, 4 March 2015. https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/northern-ireland-concerns-immigration-detention-revelations-2000-ni-detainees-last
As well as the religious advice and support group there is a group of lay volunteer visitors:
Larne House Visitor Group http://larnehousevisitorgroup.org.uk/index.html
Learn More about detention in NI:
Report on the Unannounced Inspection of the Short-Term Holding Facility at Larne House by HM Inspector of Prisons 2016
Liz Griffith, ‘Prison by another name’ in Frontline Social Welfare Law Quarterly, 81, Autumn 2011, page 20–22.
Robin Wilson Distant Voices, Shaken Lives; Human Stories of Immigration Detention from Northern Ireland, published by the Refugee Action Group (RAG), 2010.
NI Human Rights Commission Our Hidden Borders: The UK Border Agency’s Powers of Detention Immigration report 2009