Row over Michaella’s prison transfer costs

Michaella McCollum
Michaella McCollum

Unionists are asking why the UK taxpayer is to pay £353k prison costs for a Tyrone drug smuggler when Dublin lobbied to return her to Ulster.

Michaella McCollum was jailed in Peru for six years and eight months for smuggling £1.5m of cocaine out of the South American country in 2013.

Justice Minister David Ford has revealed that Ms McCollum must pay her airfare but that the taxpayer would meet her £63k annual jail costs. While the UK is willing to accept her back, Peru has not yet decided to release her.

On Thursday DUP MLA Lord Morrow said that Ms McCollum was travelling on an Irish passport and the transfer request purportedly came from the Irish government.

“It would seem that the Republic of Ireland’s interest in Michaella doesn’t extend, however, to paying for her imprisonment,” he said.

“Our Prison Service estimate the average cost for housing a prisoner last year was £5,250 per month. I accept that Michaella’s family wants their daughter back home.

“However, they must consider that Michaella was convicted for smuggling drugs worth £1.5m.”

He added that her remaining sentence would cost the taxpayer £351,750.

“Northern Ireland needs to consider how many police officers, teachers or nurses would that pay for,” he said.

UUP MLA Tom Elliott agreed that when she was caught after “choosing to smuggle drugs when travelling on an Irish passport, she went to the Irish authorities for help”.

He added: “If she wishes to be repatriated, maybe she should be repatriated to that jurisdiction instead of costing the Northern Ireland taxpayer thousands of pounds.”

A fundraising web site for Ms McCollum, now closed, raised £4,415 of a £10k target.

The solicitor acting for Ms McCollum, Kevin Winters, said her flights would be paid by her family.

He added that there was a “reciprocal arrangement between the UK and Peru” and other countries which works both ways.

This means the UK saves a similar amount of money when it flies foreign prisoners back to jails in their own countries, he said.

The Irish government had not offered any comment at the time of going to press.