Written Answers. - Departmental Staff.

Ivor Callely

Question:

178 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of personnel working in his Department in the processing of applications for refugee status; the comparative figures of the personnel numbers for the years 1994 to 1996; if the personnel levels have had an impact on the number of applications awaiting processing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15533/98]

Prior to March 1996 asylum duties were carried out by two officials within my immigration division. By December 1996 there were four and a half staff assigned full time to asylum duties. In the same month, the Department of Finance agreed, as an interim measure, to sanction additional staff for the asylum area. By April 1997, the number of staff dedicated to dealing with asylum applications had risen to 13.

On 28 July 1997 the Government approved, as an interim measure, the recruitment of 72 temporary staff. On conclusion of industrial relations negotiations over the recruitment of retired public servants, the Department of Finance approved the 72 posts on 27 February 1998. To date, 66 of the 72 extra staff posts, including 25 retired public servants recruited as part-time contractors who represent 15 full-time posts, are now in place. These new staff are exclusively involved in the processing of individual applications for refugee status; including the reception arrangements, scheduling and conducting interviews, assessments, decision-making, application of the Dublin Convention, processing of appeals, etc. All staff have completed appropriate training courses and have received "on-the-job" experience of interviews and assessments. The training programmes were agreed with UNHCR and delivered by a combination of my Department's own experienced personnel, UNHCR training specialists and the UNHCR's full-time official here.

On 5 May 1998, most of the newly trained staff took up their assignments processing applications for refugee status. That date can therefore be regarded as the starting point from which we have begun to fully address the backlog. It is intended to process both current and outstanding cases simultaneously to deal with cases as they arrive and to address the outstanding caseload within a reasonable period of time.

The lack of adequate numbers of trained staff to process applications for refugee status obviously contributed to the growth of the backlog of such applications. However, Deputies who may have concerns with regard to individual applications should be assured that all cases outstanding will be processed within a reasonable period and in full accordance with the procedures approved by the UNHCR.