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Direct Provision System

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 21 April 2021

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Questions (1365, 1366, 1367, 1368, 1369, 1370, 1371, 1492)

Thomas Gould

Question:

1365. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice the number of letters that have been issued and are being issued each month to those in direct provision in tabular form. [18131/21]

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Thomas Gould

Question:

1366. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice the number of first instance interviews for asylum seekers that have been postponed from March 2020 to date; the number that are scheduled for 2021; the number of additional interviews that are scheduled monthly to clear the backlog; the number of cases that are assigned to each interviewer; the timeframe given to complete each case; the number that received their first interview in 2020, by month; and the number of interviews with applicants outside of Dublin that have been held by month from March 2020 to date. [18132/21]

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Thomas Gould

Question:

1367. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice the accelerated procedures that have been put in place for those seeking asylum given the considerable backlog. [18133/21]

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Thomas Gould

Question:

1368. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice the nature of the non-cooperation measures in relation to those seeking asylum. [18134/21]

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Thomas Gould

Question:

1369. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice the way in which the return of questionnaires have been speeded up in relation to those seeking asylum [18135/21]

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Thomas Gould

Question:

1370. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice if an applicant seeking asylum who wants a speedy interview is placed on a remote interview list; if so, the length of the list; the length of the waiting time for this list; and the way in which applications are made. [18136/21]

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Thomas Gould

Question:

1371. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice the way in which the €1.7 million additional funding allocated to improving the processing waiting times is being spent in relation to persons seeking asylum. [18137/21]

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Mick Barry

Question:

1492. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Justice the number of the first instance international protection interviews that were postponed from March 2020 to date; the number of interviews scheduled for April 2021; the number of additional interviews scheduled each month to clear the backlog; the number of cases assigned to each interviewer; the timeframe given to complete each case; the number of applicants that have had their first interview in 2020; the number of interviews that have been held with applicants outside Dublin; the accelerated procedures that have been put in place; the definition of non-cooperation measures; if an applicant who wants a speedy interview will be included on a remote interview list; the length of time waiting for persons on the remote interview list; the way the additional €1.7 million allocated to improving the processing waiting times is spent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20498/21]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1365 to 1371, inclusive, and 1492 together.

The International Protection Office (IPO) of the Immigration Service of my Department is absolutely committed to ensuring that all applicants have an equal opportunity to present their case, while adhering to measures to ensure the safety of all participants. Staff in the IPO have worked both onsite and remotely throughout the pandemic to ensure the protection process continues to operate.

In general, the scheduling of interviews by the IPO is done in accordance with the prioritisation policy agreed with the UNHCR and published on the IPO website www.ipo.gov.ie. This prioritisation, provided for under section 73 of the International Protection Act 2015, is subject to the need for fairness and efficiency in dealing with applications for international protection. Scheduling of cases will primarily be done on the basis of the date of application (oldest cases first).

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 public health measures required to ensure the safety of applicants, legal representatives and staff have resulted in additional logistical challenges that can slow down the scheduling process. The IPO continues to explore new ways of working but it must operate within legal and logistical constraints, with the health and safety of all involved as an absolute priority. In-person contact and support, which remains an indispensable part of the process also presents the greatest challenges during Covid-19.The IPO continues to work to ensure that those who had their interviews postponed are rescheduled as soon as possible.

Substantive protection interviews under section 35 of the 2015 Act were first suspended in line with public health requirements on 13 March 2020. They resumed, in lower numbers than before due to public health measures, on 20 July and continued until 21 October when they were again suspended in line with public health measures. Interviews resumed for the period 2 December until 18 December 2020, at which point they were once again suspended. There have been no interviews to date in 2021.

The IPO continues to maintain an interview schedule, to enable as rapid a resumption as possible once public health measures allow this to happen. Currently there are in the region of 500 applicants on that draft schedule. There will, inevitably, be a period between the date that the IPO is informed that interviews can resume and the first interviews taking place in the interests of fairness to allow applicants and their legal representatives to prepare for the interview.

According to IPO records, just under 2,700 section 35 interviews were scheduled during 2020 of which just over 1,100 proceeded. Just over 1,000 interviews were postponed due to Covid-19. This figure includes applicants who, unfortunately, had interviews postponed more than once as the situation evolved over the course of the year. The comparable figure for 2019 is approximately 4,500 interviews scheduled of which 3,200 proceeded.

The table below provides the breakdown by month of interviews that took place in 2020:

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Total

259

296

118

0

0

0

42

92

116

63

0

130

1116

The number of interviews held outside Dublin broken down by month and location is provided in the table below:

Month

Cork

Sligo

Galway

Jan

16

8

0

Feb

16

0

0

Mar

0

7

0

Apr

0

0

0

May

0

0

0

June

0

0

0

July

0

0

0

Aug

0

0

0

Sept

8

0

0

Oct

16

0

0

Nov

0

0

0

Dec

17

0

2

Totals

73

15

2

The IPO successfully piloted interviews by video conference in 2019 and is now working to expand that programme with a view to making interviews by video conference a significant element of IPO operations.

The IPO writes to applicants on various aspects of their protection applications, and all applicants are written to about their interviews and the recommendation arising from consideration of their application. These letters are not recorded in such a way as to facilitate giving a total number of letters issued from the IPO in any given period of time.

Not all applicants are accommodated in the direct provision system and the IPO does not differentiate between groups in this respect, therefore the number of letters that issued to applicants accommodated in direct provision is also not available.

The IPO has been working on a revised IPO 2 international protection questionnaire, which will be shorter and more user friendly. It is planned to commence use of this questionnaire shortly. In light of the current public health restrictions, the IPO is accepting current IPO 2 Questionnaires which have been electronically completed by the applicant or their legal representative provided they have been signed by the applicant.

Section 27 of the International Protection Act 2015, places a duty on applicants to cooperate with the process. The IPO will write to applicants who are not cooperating with the process at their last known address giving them the opportunity to cooperate. The IPO copies this letter to their legal representative where known. In the event an applicant does not respond, i.e., continues not cooperating with the process, the IPO will proceed to make a recommendation on their application based on the information available to it. The IPO will notify the applicant and their legal representative of this recommendation which, if negative, can be appealed to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT). An applicant can contact the IPO at any point to resume cooperating with the process, provided this is done prior to a recommendation issuing on their international protection application.

In October 2020, I announced that an additional €1.75m had been allocated for asylum processing in 2021 for the efficient functioning of the international protection system, which will help us to further improve processing times for applications.

The additional budget was assigned in 2021, which includes the €1.75m referenced above and the split was as follows: €1m was assigned to pay expenditure for Immigration Services/IPO and €0.75m was assigned to IPAT.

My Department is committed to implementing the key recommendations in the Expert Advisory Group Report to reduce processing times of both first instance decisions and appeals to 6 months respectively, as outlined in the White Paper to End Direct Provision and Establish a New International Protection Support Service.

Work is underway in my Department towards identifying mechanisms which will assist with working towards improved processing times, including an end-to-end review of processes to guide enhanced processing times. When this first phase of work is complete it will inform how this additional funding will be further apportioned between the IPO and the IPAT.

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