Written Answers. - Irish Refugee Council.

Jim Higgins

Question:

159 Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make additional funds available to the Irish Refugee Council in order to adequately resource the council's free legal advice service for asylum seekers. [22285/98]

During the period 1 January to 30 September 1997, my Department provided financial assistance to the Irish Refugee Council for a legal project which provided advice to asylum seekers at the first stage of the asylum process. The Irish Refugee Council withdrew from the scheme with effect from 1 October 1997.

Pending the provision of a refugee legal service my Department provides £120, plus VAT per case in legal aid for asylum seekers to present their cases to the appeals authority. This amount is paid to the legal representatives, who are engaged independently by asylum seekers, on certification by the appeals authority that the representatives have acted in the case.
In April 1998 my Department sought tenders from persons interested in establishing and maintaining an independent refugee legal service. Such a service will provide legal advice and representation for asylum seekers in connection with their asylum applications. Five tenders were received and following the detailed evaluation process conducted by a committee comprising one representative each from my Department, the office of the Attorney General and the UNHCR it was recommended that the tender process be abandoned and no contract awarded. I have accepted this recommendation and further options are being considered. It is hoped to finalise arrangements shortly.