Michaella McCollum: MLA questions cost of jail transfer

Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid were jailed in Peru last year
Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid were jailed in Peru last year

The transfer of a convicted drugs mule from Peru to a Northern Ireland prison has been questioned by Ukip MLA David McNarry.

Mr McNarry was commenting after confirmation that Michaella McCollum will serve the remainder of a six-years and eight months sentence at Hydebank.

McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and her accomplice Melissa Reid, from Glasgow, were jailed last year after they admitted trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5 million from Peru to Spain. The pair were caught with the haul hidden in food packaging during a luggage search at Lima airport on August 6.

Earlier this week, McCollum’s Belfast-based lawyer Kevin Winters said he had received confirmation from the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs that the prison transfer request has been accepted by the Peruvian authorities. Her legal team described prison conditions in Peru as “appalling”.

McCollum, 21, and Reid faced the prospect of a maximum 15-year prison term but struck a plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.

Mr McNarry said the prison switch raises questions, including who will be meeting the cost of her prison stay.

“The Irish Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs have intervened on behalf of one of their citizens and secured her release from Peru. Now for the twist; Michaella McCollum is not returning to serve out her prison sentence in the Irish Republic she will do so in the United Kingdom – how come?” he said.

“What role did the UK Foreign Office have in the matter? Which government authority, the UK or the Irish Republic, gave guarantees and undertakings to the Peru authorities enabling Michaella’s release to be processed?

“No doubt Michaella’s parents are relieved that she is being transferred from Peru as any parents would be. But surely the issue of so-called ‘dual nationality’ will be looked at by David Ford and the matter of Northern Ireland footing the bill for those calling themselves Irish, and travelling on Republic of Ireland passports, will be reviewed. I would call for dual nationality to be scrapped,” he added.

All prisoners making their way to the UK must be accompanied during their journey and airlines must be advised in advance to ensure appropriate security measures are in place.

When asked to respond to the questions raised by Mr McNarry, a Northern Ireland Prison Service spokesman said: “We don’t normally comment on individual cases. All transfer requests are, however, dealt with as expeditiously as possible.”