Far fewer prisoners are to avail of temporary release for Christmas this year, with concern over the risk of contracting Covid-19 whilst in the community among a number of factors for the reduced number.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said 36 prisoners will be granted varying period of temporary release over the festive season, under the Criminal Justice Act.

The figure is greatly reduced on the number over the past three years, which stood at 142 in 2017, 137 in 2018, and 113 prisoners last year.

The periods of release will vary from a few hours, up to as much as six nights.

All of those out on release are subject to "stringent conditions", with any offender who breaches them subject to arrest and an immediate return to prison.

This year's figure represents 1% of the overall prisoner population in the country.

Concern over the risk of catching Covid-19 was one of several factors for the smaller number.

Other factors included a reduced number in custody, which in turn has led to a reduced pool of eligible prisoners, and increased use of structured temporary release programmes during the year.

Due to the Covid-19 situation in Ireland, the Department of Justice has said "specific additional conditions" have been added to prisoners' temporary release.

These include an obligation to abide by all public health guidelines when at home or in public.

All prisoners out on temporary release will be required to quarantine on return to prison for up to 14 days, or until they return a negative result upon being tested for Covid-19.