Many of the 900 Irish people imprisoned in jails across England and Wales "lead lives of quiet desperation" and fresh attempts are being made to reach out to each inmate and offer them assistance.

Fr Gerry McFlynn, a chaplain at London's Wormwood Scrubs prison, is leaving his current job to work fulltime for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas. His intention is to make contact with all 900 Irish prisoners in England and Wales and offer them various forms of welfare. "We want every single Irish prisoner over here to know that we exist and will help them if we can. Many Irish prisoners over here are isolated. In many cases, their families are in Ireland so they have no visitors. Some of them lead lives of quiet desperation," McFlynn told the Sunday Tribune.

"We can offer them various kinds of help. We can liaise with their families. We can help them with legal issues, like helping them correspond with their solicitors. We can also provide them with small amounts of money and clothes if they are in need. In some cases, we can provide them with letters of reference when they are to be released to try and help them rebuild their lives. We are as much a resource for the families of those imprisoned as for the prisoners themselves."

Almost 50% of Irish prisoners in England and Wales are Travellers, he said. "Irish prisoners over here face discrimination generally but there is a particular discrimination towards the Travelling community. Irish Travellers can't get jobs on the prison wings in some cases. Many Irish prisoners over here have learning difficulties. Those people are at a major disadvantage when they are trying to communicate with their solicitors," said McFlynn.

"Being apart from their families who are not in a position to visit is difficult. It particularly becomes a problem if loved ones are dying. A lot of them struggle to cope with isolation and loneliness and there are mental health problems."

The Irish Council for Prisoners Oversees is marking its 25th anniversary this week. Its objective is to promote social justice and human dignity for Irish people in prison overseas and their families. The organisation is funded by Irish bishops council and the Department of Foreign Affairs.