Other Questions. - Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the criteria used in making appointments to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal; if the positions are advertised; his plans to review the procedures for appointment, having regard to the considerable sums earned by a number of those appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17093/03]

The Refugee Appeals Tribunal is an independent body established under the Refugee Act 1996. The tribunal comprises a Chairperson and, at the present time, 31 ordinary members appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The criteria used in making appointments to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal are set out in the Second Schedule to the 1996 Act. Ordinary members of the tribunal who are part-time, hold office for a term of three years and, as in the case of the Chairperson, are required to have had not less than five years' experience as a practising barrister or practising solicitor before appointment.

The Chairperson is appointed following a competition held by the Civil Service Commission for a term of office of five years. While the post of Chairperson was advertised before it was filled by the present incumbent in 2000, there is no statutory requirement to advertise the position of ordinary member.

The tribunal has, and continues to play, a vital part in the Government's overall asylum strategy with a huge volume of appeals processed and dealt with in a timely, fair and effective manner in line with our international obligations. The tribunal is always ready for inspection by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in Ireland. The momentum achieved in the tribunal's affairs is being maintained and the earnings of individual tribunal members are a reflection of the volume and throughput of cases essential to maintain that progress and a fair asylum process.

The existing arrangements are working well and there are no plans to review procedures for appointing ordinary members of the tribunal.

Considering what the Minister said, it would certainly seem that it is high time that we reviewed the tribunal. Is the Minister aware that €3 million was spent in the past two and a half years on wages to the 31 ordinary members and that the sums of money each received varied from €319,000 to one member, more than €200,000 to three members, while two members did not receive anything.

Do we not need to review the procedure to see why there is such an imbalance of cases handed out to individual members? The members are barristers, solicitors and in some cases, former politicians and Ministers. We are now informed that there are no statutory criteria for advertising for ordinary members. Surely we should review the legislation when there is a large amount of funding from the public purse being distributed in what appears to be a most unequal way.

Will the Minister review the situation, given that the payments are per case notper diem? The more cases an individual is given, the more the payment will be. Surely we have learned the lesson from the tribunals that if one pays on a unit basis it will amount to a huge sum of money at the end of the day. It is simply not good enough to allow a body to operate in a manner which seems to be neither transparent nor accountable. Vast sums of money are distributed yet we have no criteria for the establishment of members.

Will the Minister review the situation with a view to introducing some amendment to the legislation, in terms of advertising for members and the manner of payment?

The Department of Finance sanctioned the appointment of up to 32 members of the tribunal. They are paid on a per item basis precisely because that is the best way to ensure that this important work is done effectively. The taxpayer might inquire of me as to why a change is required to the basis of payment to such asper diem, per week or per annum which would result in members getting a fixed stipend regardless of how much work is done.

The system is working well and I am content with it in its present form. The term of appointment of many of the current members will fall to be reviewed in November of this year. There are reasons why the two people to whom the Deputy referred received zero payment. It is nothing to do with them not being allowed to work or whatever.

Could we have the reasons?

I will not discuss the personal affairs of two tribunal members. It has nothing to do with them being denied—

What is the reason for having them as members if they are not dealing with any cases? I do not want to find out what personal or private matters might be involved. Why appoint two members and then not give them any cases to deal with?

That is not the case. One person was appointed comparatively recently and the other person, for some personal reason of which I am unaware, was unavailable to do the work at the relevant period.

Out of 32 people I cannot ensure that everybody is available at all times. I assure the House, however, that there is no question of the chairperson of the tribunal denying any member access to a caseload. It is quite the reverse. I have spoken to the chairperson of the tribunal and he assured me his aim is to ensure that everybody participates to the maximum extent that their personal circumstances permit them to do. I want to get that point across as clearly as I can.

The system is working well and if it is not broken we should not start fixing it. If the Deputy wishes to put down amending subsections, he may do so, subject to the rules of the House. I cannot predict what the Chair will say. There will be an opportunity in the context of the refugee and asylum Bill which will be before the House again. The Deputy is well capable of putting down amendments and has probably decided already what amendments he wishes to table.

Acting Chairman

I suggest to the Deputy that we leave the question until then.

Unlike the Minister, I do not like bringing in a bevy of amendments at the last moment but I will consider his suggestion. However, it is an important issue. We are discussing an appeals mechanism in relation to the tribunal for people applying for asylum. Interestingly, the ratio of success is much greater on appeals than on first applications. It is important to have a certain degree of transparency in this process so that we know what is happening. It seems strange that one person should have a huge number of cases while another person might have none. I believe there should be some advertising criteria and that it should be advertised abroad. I hope the Minister will still consider that. Otherwise, I will have to introduce an amendment.