I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 266 together.
The majority of persons immigrating to the State are either Irish or EEA nationals who are entitled to enter employment in Ireland without any prior authorisation – EEA consists of the EU states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Subject to certain exceptions, non EEA nationals require a work permit prior to taking up employment in Ireland. The work permit scheme is administered by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and decisions on applications are taken by that Department having regard to, inter alia, the skills or qualifications of the person concerned and the capacity of the applicant firm to recruit a suitable EEA national candidate. More than 6,000 such permits issued during 1999.
In the year to end-February, 9,096 persons applied for asylum in Ireland. In so far as the Deputy's question relates to the skills possessed by applicants for asylum, the position is that, while applicants may provide information relating to their profession and skills in the course of making their application, such information is not used in assessing the validity of the applicant's case for refugee status. I would emphasise to the Deputy that the purpose of the asylum system is to protect persons fleeing persecution; it has nothing to do with meeting skill shortages that exist in the labour force. With regard to those asylum applicants who are eligible to work under the terms of the Government decision of 26 July 1999, I understand that FÁS has made arrangements to assess the skills and job prospects of the persons in question.