I propose to take Questions Nos. 584 to 590, inclusive, together.
The number of applications processed for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2011 was approximately 15,000. The number approved was approximately 13,000 and refused was approximately 600. In addition, almost 1,200 applications were deemed to be ineligible.
The primary aim since I was appointed Minister in March 2011 has been to reduce the large volume of cases on hand as swiftly as possible which has now been achieved in the majority of cases and I am confident that significant inroads will also be made with the remaining cases by year end. I can also inform the Deputy that from June 2012, in the generality of cases i.e. around 70%, persons applying for a certificate of naturalisation will be given a decision on their application within six months.
For the information of the Deputy the situation in March 2011 was that there were over 22,000 cases on hand and applications were taking an average time of over two years to process and many were waiting 3 to 4 years. Through the measures I introduced enormous progress has been made, notwithstanding a substantial increase in the volume of valid applications received in 2011, during which a total of 18,500 valid applications were received compared to 12,500 in 2010. As stated above, approximately 15,000 valid applications were determined in 2011. By contrast, in 2010, a decision was reached in just under 7,800 cases. In 2012 to date, I have made a decision in approximately 15,600 cases.
The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, as amended, provides that the Minister may decide to grant or refuse an application in his absolute discretion on a case by case basis by assessing the entirety of the available information. Where an application is refused the applicant is generally given reasons for that decision insofar as the explanation given cannot be interpreted as a fettering of the absolute discretion given to the Minister in the Act. I would make the general comment that this issue has been tested before the Courts and found to be in accordance with the law. The Deputy will therefore appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to provide the information sought in respect of the reasons for refusing applications for naturalisation. In any event, I am advised by the Citizenship Division of my Department that the retrieval and compilation of this and other information requested by the Deputy for the period in question would necessitate a disproportionate use of time and resources which could not be justified in circumstances where the priority is to deal with the cases on hand.