TWO PRISONERS granted temporary release for Christmas 2009 are still at large, while all of the 134 prisoners across the Republic's jails granted temporary release for the 2010 holiday period have returned except one.

Charles Flynn (20), from Moyross in Limerick, has not returned to St Patrick's Institute since Christmas. He was due for release in April after being sentenced to one year and seven months for stealing a car. Prison sources say they are hopeful he will return within the next few days.

Meanwhile, two inmates granted temporary release for Christmas in December 2009 are being sought by gardaí.

Patrick Ward (28), from Tuam in Co Galway, has been on the run for over 12 months since granted Christmas release from Loughan House prison in Cavan. He was serving a one-year sentence for drink-driving and driving without insurance.

Patrick Mongon (37), from Roscommon town, is also on the run from Loughan House prison for over 12 months. He was serving two years for assault. Both inmates are members of the Traveller community. Their failure to return to prison is not believed to be linked to each other.

When inmates on temporary release do not return, the prison authorities inform gardaí who then attempt to locate the at-large criminals.

Justice minister Dermot Ahern said that just over half of the 134 prisoners granted the traditional release period at Christmas were serving their sentences in open or low-security prisons. The total number of inmates being released is down on the year before, when 176 were set free for the holiday period. The number released this Christmas represents 2.5% of the total prison population.

The periods of release vary in length from a number of hours on Christmas day to periods of up to one week. Malcolm Macarthur (62), who was jailed in 1982 for murdering nurse Bridie Gargan in the Phoenix Park, was released for part of Christmas day to spend time with his family. Macarthur was released for a number of hours and returned to prison in Shelton Abbey, Co Wicklow, on Christmas night. It was his fourth period of temporary release.

Former army private Seán Courtney, who has served 17 years of a life sentence for the murder of Dublin woman Patricia O'Toole in the Dublin mountains, was released for three days from Castlerea Prison, Co Roscommon.

A significant number of those granted temporary release are nearing the end of long sentences.