I am happy to tell the Deputy that arrangements are under way to implement the Act. A series of regulations, including the Dublin Convention, have had to go to the Attorney General's office and also to come before this House. Work is almost complete, but it is quite a complex and technical piece of work and has taken a considerable amount of time. During the debates on the Refugee Act in this House I made a commitment to come back and have it debated in the House. I expect it to come before the House next month.
Regarding the increase in the number of applications, in 1992 there were 39 applications for refugee status, in 1995 there were 400 applications, in 1996 there were 1,100 applications and this year there have already been 677 applications. That is a phenomenal increase. Work is under way at the moment to establish the various offices under the Refugee Act. In particular, the post of refugee appeals commissioner has been publicly advertised and the interview process for that is under way at the moment under the control of the Civil Service Appointments Commission. We decided to make that appointment by public open competition. This was done to ensure that all qualified applicants who wished to apply would have access and that it would not be a post by appointment. I am sure the Deputy welcomes the fact that we have done that, but it does take more time.
As to the other matters, the Office of Public Works is currently obtaining a premises and negotiations are under way with the Department of Finance on the detail of staffing requirements. The phenomenal increase in the numbers applying for refugee status has changed the planning in terms of the number of people required. In the past six months we have given additional resources to the UNHCR to cope with the backlog. Under the arrangements of a legal case going back to 1985 all asylum refugee applications in Ireland are referred for their expert advice to the UNHCR under the Geneva Convention. We have given additional resources to the UNHCR in London to assist in their examination process. Already this year more than 160 asylum applications have been dealt with, whereas two years ago the Department of Justice dealt with fewer than 25 cases a year, and less than ten in some years. The Deputy should appreciate, therefore, that there has been a huge additional demand for a variety of reasons including the fact that our economy is so successful, making us more attractive to asylum seekers, the international profile of President Robinson, the international profile of Ireland and the fact that in the post-Cold War era there are civil conflicts in many countries as a consequence of which many more people are seeking asylum than was the case ten or 15 years ago. Inevitably we have to cope with the consequences of that.