A Portuguese man serving a life sentence for the murder of a young woman at the Jurys Inn Hotel in Limerick five years ago has begun a High Court challenge to a refusal by the Minister for Justice to transfer him to a Portuguese prison.

31-year-old Paolo Nascimento was given a mandatory life sentence in March 2003 for the murder of 24-year-old Grainne Dillon from Glounthaune in Cork in January 2002.

Ms Dillon was working as a trainee manager at the hotel when Nascimento shot her three times and stole €3,000 before leaving her to bleed to death.

Last September, the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, refused his request to serve the rest of his sentence in a prison in Portugal.

The Portuguese authorities had said he would serve a 25-year sentence there, which is the highest possible sentence for murder under Portuguese law. But the minister refused the request on the basis that the fixed sentence proposed by the Portuguese was not appropriate given the gravity of the offence.

Lawyers for Nascimento say this is an unreasonable and capricious decision given that most people sentenced to life in Ireland serve between 12 and 15 years.

They are also challenging the constitutionality of the section of the Criminal Justice Act allowing the length of a mandatory life sentence to be decided by the minister and not by the courts.

Nascimento has not been visited by any member of his family since he was taken into custody in 2002.

He says his mother is looking after his sick grandmother and his father needs to attend hospital daily for oxygen. He has been transferred on three occasions in Irish prisons because, he says, of the behaviour of other prisoners.

He says he wants to serve his sentence at home because he would be able to speak his own language and receive visits from his family.

Ms Dillon's family are opposed to the move. They say he murdered Grainne and stole the money from the hotel in order to move to Portugal and if he was transferred, he would get what he wanted.