Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, answered orally.

Visa Numbers

Questions (9)

Barry Cowen

Question:

9. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the total number of visas issued by his Department in 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20762/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The total number of entry visas granted in 2011 and 2012 was around 74,700 and 79,300 respectively. This compares with about 65,700 and 70,300 in the preceding two years and represents an increase of almost 21% in that time. In addition, my Department also issued 53,480 re-entry visas in 2011 and 44,073 in 2012. Re-entry visas are issued to visa-required nationals who are legally resident in the State.

In the period in question, the overall approval rate for visa applications was in excess of 91% which compares favourably with other EU member states. Provisional figures for the first three months of 2013 indicate that around 16,100 entry visas were granted and 8,700 re-entry visas.

I would remind the Deputy that since coming into office I have introduced the State's first ever Visa Waiver Programme whereby citizens of seventeen designated countries can travel on to Ireland from the UK without the need for an Irish visa and citizens of those countries who are long-term residents in the UK or the Schengen area can obtain an Irish visa without charge. This initiative has been welcomed by both tourism promotion agencies and operators and has been a significant success with trips from the designated countries increasing by 21% in the twelve months after its introduction in July 2011.

Garda Retirements

Questions (10)

Seán Fleming

Question:

10. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the total number of Gardaí who retired in 2011, 2012 and are expected to retire in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20770/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Members of An Garda Síochána may retire on a voluntary basis once they have reached 50 years of age and have accrued 30 years service. Members must retire on compulsory age grounds on reaching the age of 60. In actual fact, most Gardaí take voluntary retirement ahead of their compulsory retirement age and it is not possible to predict with any certainty the number of Gardaí who will leave the Force during the course of any one year. There are approximately 1,300 Garda members who could retire in 2013 on full pension. However, there is no basis for expecting that all those who could retire will actually do so.

Equally it is difficult to establish an average figure for Garda retirements, particularly as the annual rate of retirements has been affected in the past by one-off factors such as the grace period which lasted until the end of February last year. While it would not be unreasonable, therefore, extrapolating from recent experience, to expect that retirements might range somewhere between 300 and 400, it is not possible to give a scientific estimate. I have, however, been informed by the Garda authorities that in 2011 and 2012 the number of retirements from An Garda Síochána was 444 and 429 respectively. As of 28 April 2013, the number of Gardaí who have retired or declared their intention to retire during the course of 2013 is 173.

Family Reunification Policy

Questions (11, 12)

Seán Crowe

Question:

11. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when his new policy on family reunification will be published and implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20834/13]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

12. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of family reunification cases currently being delayed by the current pause in processing certain categories pending his new policy in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20835/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 12 together.

Work has been underway on a policy document on family reunification for some time and this is now well advanced. It is my intention to publish this document in the coming weeks. That is not to say that no policies are in place as things stand. On the contrary, every year the immigration authorities process significant levels of family reunification applications with variations in potential eligibility depending on the circumstances. However I believe there is a need to overhaul our policies in this area. I believe we can provide a more comprehensive set of rules and regulations so that applicants and practitioners can have a better understanding of likely outcomes and our own officials have more complete guidelines to help them in their work. In addition I think it would be helpful for the State to explain the rationale for its policies.

Family reunification is a matter of considerable importance within the immigration system and accounts for a substantial proportion of the work of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. It is entirely natural that families would wish to be together as a unit and indeed family reunification contributes in a positive sense to integration of the family members in the host country. Moreover both the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights recognise the importance of the family. Of course this does not equate to a right to family reunification but it has nevertheless a significant bearing on the policy choices that the Government of the day will make.

The Government has a duty to control immigration in furtherance of public policy, including operation of the Common Travel Area. Ultimately family reunification policy is a question of finding the appropriate balance between the legitimate aspirations of the family and its members to reside together in Ireland and the interests of the wider society, including those relating to the economy. Sometimes these interests will coincide and in some cases they may not. The document will focus on those areas where family reunification is a matter of national policy. Accordingly the focus will be on family reunification both where the sponsor is an Irish national and where he/she is from outside the EEA. Family reunification for the non-EEA members of the family of an EU national who as moved to Ireland in exercise of free movement rights are governed by EU law. The policy document will include guidelines on all the main issues involved in determining an application for residence in Ireland on the basis of family reunification including eligibility, the concept of sponsorship, dependency, financial resources and personal requirements.

To date there less than 50 visa applications worldwide in respect of family reunification awaiting consideration in anticipation of the introduction of this new policy. It should be noted that most of the normal family caseload is not impacted. It is only those cases of particular complexity that need to be held at this point.

Asylum Support Services

Questions (13)

John Halligan

Question:

13. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he intends to replace the direct provision system or put a system in place that would allow asylum seekers the right to work and live independently, which would save the State a considerable amount of money; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20697/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Direct Provision system managed by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department remains a key pillar of the State's asylum and immigration system and I have no plans to end it at this time. Rather, my intention is that the factors which lead to delays in the processing of cases are dealt with so that asylum seekers spend as little time as is necessary in that accommodation system.

The Deputy's question wrongly asserts that allowing asylum seekers work and live independently would save the State money. That is not so. There are no cheaper alternatives to the Direct Provision system. A key finding in the 2010 Value for Money Report on the Direct Provision system was that if we were operating a system which facilitated asylum seekers in living independent lives in individual housing with social welfare support and payments, aside from the asylum 'pull factor' it would likely create, far from saving the State money, the cost to the exchequer would be double what is currently paid under the direct provision system.

I do accept that the length of time spent in direct provision and the complexity of the asylum process itself is an issue which needs to be addressed. The accommodation system is inextricably linked to the surrounding asylum process. The revised Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, which I intend to re-publish, should substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements for asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain applications. It will do this by making provision for the establishment of a single application procedure, so that applicants can be provided with a final decision on all aspects of their protection application in a more straight forward and timely fashion.

Pending the enactment and commencement of the new legislation and with a view to improving processing, I am proposing to introduce new arrangements for the processing of subsidiary protection applications in light of recent judgments in the Superior Courts. My Department, in consultation with the Attorney General's Office, is developing a new legislative and administrative framework for the processing of current and future subsidiary protection applications. This work is being given high priority and applicants will be advised of the new arrangements as soon as possible.

Departmental Reports

Questions (14)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

14. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the Justice Quirke report on the operation of the Magdalen laundries redress fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20777/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Mr Justice Quirke has been asked to advise on the establishment of a scheme for the benefit of those women who were admitted to and worked in a Magdalen Laundry and to examine how best to operate, as part of that scheme, necessary supports for women who have been in a Magdalen Laundry. It is a matter for Mr Justice Quirke to decide independently how he will carry out his examination. He was invited in February to submit his report within three months. When his recommendations have been received, the Government will consider the matter and decide how best to implement a scheme.

Garda Corruption

Questions (15)

Mick Wallace

Question:

15. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether whistleblower gardaí are adequately protected by the confidential recipient system and existing whistleblowers' legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20824/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Garda Síochána (Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007 provide for an independent Confidential Recipient to whom members of the Force can report, in confidence, instances where they believe there may be corruption or malpractice within the Force. The Confidential Recipient is required to transmit each report to the Commissioner but, in doing so, is bound to protect the identity of the confidential reporter. Any communication between the Confidential Recipient and the Commissioner is absolutely confidential and there are strong safeguards in the Regulations for the protection of confidential reporters.

It is also the case that, in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government, my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will shortly bring forward legislative proposals to give robust protection for whistleblowing employees generally, across the public and private sectors. The intention is that this legislation will make provision for the Garda Síochána, and I look forward to the opportunity of discussing the details of the proposals when they are published.

Garda Strength

Questions (16)

John Browne

Question:

16. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for the total strength of the force in 2013, 2014 and 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20753/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The strength of the Force has been reducing due to the moratorium on recruitment introduced by the previous Government and the strength, as of the 31 March 2013, is 13,366. While it is difficult to predict with any certainty the number of Garda members who will retire in any year, given that members with 30 years service may retire on full pension after the age of 50, a retirement rate in line with recent experience could see Garda strength approaching 13,000 by the end of this year.

Looking forward to future years, I have already said that I would not like to see Garda strength fall below that level, and I will bring proposals to Government shortly in relation to maintaining Garda operational strength. It is of course the case that a resumption of Garda recruitment, at a time when both overall headcount and the size of the pay bill in the public service must be reduced, would have financial implications that must be managed within the overall resources available to Government. It is simply not credible for any Deputy to pay lip service to the need for budgetary discipline while at the same time implying through Questions in the House that the cost of significant elements of the public service can be increased without regard for the financial consequences. In that context, it is important that the current impasse in relation to the LRC proposals on saving €1 billion from the public service pay bill, including €300 million this year, is first resolved. As Deputies will be aware, the LRC is currently exploring with all the parties concerned the potential for such a resolution, and of course I hope that there is a positive outcome to that process.

Garda Deployment

Questions (17, 47)

Derek Keating

Question:

17. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied that adequate resources and appropriate Garda units are available to the Superintendent in charge of the Lucan and Clondalkin areas of Dublin following the recent robberies, murders and attempted murders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20594/13]

View answer

Derek Keating

Question:

47. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views that an armed response unit should be based in the Dublin mid-west area following recent murders and attempted murders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20593/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 47 together.

The Deputy will be aware that the Commissioner is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel and armed response units, throughout the organisation and I have no direct function in the matter. This allocation of resources is constantly monitored in the context of demographics, crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a District, Divisional and Regional level to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.

As of 31 March 2013, there were 742 Gardaí assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan Region West Division of which 214 are assigned to Clondalkin and 165 assigned to Lucan. There are also 66 Garda Reserves and 47 civilians assigned to the Division. In addition, local resources are supported, when necessary, with a 24/7 armed response from the Special Detective Unit and the Emergency Response Unit throughout the Region.

An Garda Síochána continues to vigorously tackle organised crime through undertaking a range of targeted activities designed to disrupt and dismantle the operations of criminal organisations. This involves targeting serious criminals and organised criminal groups on a number of fronts, including through the use of focused intelligence-led operations by specialist units such as the Serious and Organised Crime Unit, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau. These units are also supported, as required, by the Security and Intelligence Section which assists with the provision of intelligence briefings and timely information.

Proposed Legislation

Questions (18)

Sandra McLellan

Question:

18. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he will introduce consolidated and reformed legislation on domestic violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20844/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Programme for Government commitment - to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation, in a way that provides protection to victims - will be progressed as soon as possible having regard to the need for consultations and other legislative priorities.

In addition, the Law Reform Commission is considering, at my request, a possible amendment to section 10 of the Non-fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997, which deals with harassment. This arises from reports of difficulties in bringing successful prosecutions under that section in relation to domestic and sexual violence. I understand the Law Reform Commission expects to complete a discussion or consultation paper in the first half of this year in relation to their consideration of the provision. The paper will, I expect, also consider whether stalking should be provided for specifically in legislation.

Crime Prevention

Questions (19)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

19. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress that has been made in addressing border region criminal activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20773/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am happy to inform the House that there is close and ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI on all aspects of policing. In 2010 the two police forces put in place a joint Cross Border Policing Strategy which has as its aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island. The joint Cross Border Policing Strategy includes sections dealing with Operations; Cross Border Investigations; Intelligence-sharing and Security; Information and Communications Technology; Training; Human Resources, and Emergency Planning. The two police services are jointly engaged in implementing initiatives in all these areas.

I meet and maintain contact very regularly with the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, to address matters of mutual concern and enhance effective co-operation and co-ordination on all criminal justice matters. Under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Co-operation on Criminal Justice Matters we operate a structured framework to further develop this co-operation. Officials from our Departments meet regularly to assess and report to us on developments in a number of areas where co-operation is pursued.

The two Justice Departments, the police authorities and the public prosecutors North and South have jointly developed and put in place a Joint Manual of Guidance for use in criminal investigations with a cross-border element. The joint manual supports the police and prosecution authorities in both jurisdictions by ensuring that each side has an awareness of the needs of the other jurisdiction and can bear those in mind in conducting an investigation. The joint manual allows them to maximise the chances of a successful detection and prosecution.

The fight against the threat from paramilitary groups is a priority for both police services. The Gardaí co-operate seamlessly with their counterparts in Northern Ireland in actively bearing down on these criminal terrorists. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI who have responsibility for operational policing co-operation have repeatedly emphasised that the close and high quality co-operation between their forces has been instrumental in preventing attacks, combating criminality and saving lives. I would emphasise that the joint Cross Border Policing Strategy recognises the particular value of interagency co-operation in certain areas, for example, in ongoing efforts to combat the organised crime gangs operating on this island to whom the paramilitaries are inextricably linked.

The Cross-Border Task Force on Fuel Laundering and Smuggling which comprises representatives from the two police forces, the two customs services, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency has underpinned successful actions which have disrupted the activities of a number of groups involved in the laundering and distribution of illegal fuels. A similar interagency group, the Cross Border Tobacco Enforcement Group, is in place to support the fight against the activities of gangs engaged in tobacco fraud. North-South co-operation at the policy and operational levels in combating crime is positive and dynamic. The challenges that crime presents are shared ones on this island and joint working in the fight against crime will continue to enhance our efforts to improve community safety for all.

Asylum Applications

Questions (20)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

20. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the result of the review promised by his Department last year in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20698/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The person concerned arrived in the State in September 2005 and claimed asylum. Before arriving in the State he had applied to study at Trinity College. He claimed that he had applied for this course from Mali. The person concerned is a national of Cameroon. He states that he left Cameroon around 1998 and was granted refugee status in Nigeria. He subsequently moved to Mali, where he also states that he was granted refugee status. He arrived in the State from France. The asylum application was refused by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in May 2006. This was upheld by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal in April 2007. In May 2007 the person concerned was notified that it was proposed to make a Deportation Order against him. He was invited to apply for Subsidiary Protection and to make representations pursuant to Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999. These were duly submitted by the Refugee Legal Service in June 2007.

The Subsidiary Protection application was considered and the person was notified on 10 December 2009 that it was refused. The Section 3 representations were also considered and a Deportation Order was signed by the then Minister on 15 December 2009. This was notified to the person concerned on 22 December 2009. On 19 January 2010, the Refugee Legal Service advised the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service that the Deportation Order had not been received by the person concerned. The Order was then re-issued on 28 January 2010. Judicial Review proceedings were lodged in the High Court on 25 February 2010 challenging the refusal of Subsidiary Protection and the making of the Deportation Order. As the matter is, therefore, sub judice I do not propose to comment further.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Proposed Legislation

Questions (21)

Dessie Ellis

Question:

21. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the time frame for the publication of the new Immigration Residency and Protection Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20838/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Work on the details of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 is ongoing at my Department pursuant to current Government policy which is committed, under the Programme for Government, to "introduce comprehensive reforms of the immigration, residency and asylum systems, which will include a statutory appeals system and set out rights and obligations in a transparent way". As I have outlined previously to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence, several hundred amendments to the Legal Services Regulation Bill are anticipated, the majority of a technical nature. On that occasion, I also expressed the considered view that instead of engaging in an extremely cumbersome process of tabling hundreds of amendments to the 2010 Bill it would be much more efficient to publish a new and enhanced text. Such an approach can incorporate the many anticipated amendments while addressing key outstanding issues, several of which have been of concern to Members, including that of a streamlined, single application procedure and that of an appropriate appeals procedure. This proposition was broadly welcomed by the Joint Committee. Work on the Bill continues, therefore, on that basis, including in cooperation with the Offices of Parliamentary Counsel and of the Attorney General while also taking account of any relevant rulings by the Courts. It remains my objective under this new approach, and mindful of our having to deal with the competing legislative demands of our EU/IMF/ECB Programme commitments, to be in a position to bring a revised Bill to Government for approval and publication later this year.

National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan Issues

Questions (22)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

22. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when his Department will publish an implementation plan for the national disability strategy. [20853/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Department has been engaged in a wide ranging consultation process with Government Departments and with the disability stakeholders group in the preparation of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan (NDSIP). The aim of the NDSIP is the engagement with the Disability sector and to build on the traditional problem solving and constructive approach of the community and voluntary sector to make progress towards the common interests. The current position is that the draft Implementation Plan has been presented to the Disability Stakeholders' Group for consideration at their meeting on 14th May. Following consideration of the Plan by the Disability Stakeholders' Group it may be possible to advance rapidly to publication of the Plan.