There are no plans to grant an amnesty to asylum seekers based on the length of time spent in the asylum system. The Deputy might wish to note that at EU Level, the Member States, in agreeing the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum at the European Council in October 2008 made specific commitments "to use only case-by-case regularisation, rather than generalised regularisation, under national law, for humanitarian or economic reasons". While the Pact is not legally binding, the political commitment among Member States, then and now, is clearly against any form of process that would in any way legitimise the status of persons present in the State without first examining the merits of their individual cases. In Ireland's case there are also considerations based on maintaining the integrity of the Common Travel Area with the UK which must be taken into account. Any significant departure from well established policies in this respect would have a major impact on the operation of the Common Travel Area both here and in the United Kingdom.It must also be emphasised that broad regularisation programmes are problematic, in particular as they could give rise to unpredictable and potentially very costly impacts across the full range of public and social services. Clearly there would also be significant issues for the labour marker in the context of the very large number of people unemployed in the State. Similar issues would arise in respect of access to the housing market and its related supports.
Measures have recently been taken with a view to delivering improvements in the processing of protection applications. The Deputy will be aware that the European Union (Subsidiary Protection) Regulations 2013 (S.I. No. 426 of 2013) were signed into law by my predecessor last November. Under the new Regulations, responsibility for the processing of applications for subsidiary protection was transferred from my Department to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) with appeals to be dealt with by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT). Both of these bodies are independent in the exercise of their statutory functions and they have substantial experience in the area of asylum investigations and appeals, respectively. Additional resources have been allocated to the establishment and operation of the new arrangements for the processing of these cases which include the engagement of a panel of legally qualified persons to process cases, personal interviews for each applicant at the first instance and the opportunity for an applicant to appeal a negative recommendation of the ORAC to the RAT. The ORAC, in consultation with the UNHCR, have recently published on its website details of how it will prioritise the process of scheduling persons for interview taking into account, inter-alia, dealing with applicants who are longest in the system first. The intention is to process as many of these cases to finality as soon as possible to include consideration of any leave to remain aspects arising.
Legislative reform aimed at establishing a single application procedure in the area of international protection remains a key priority. I will be reviewing the work done to date in respect of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill in consultation with my officials, following which I will decide on how best to progress the implementation of the Government's priorities, particularly those relating to the establishment of a single application procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection and any other grounds presented by applicants seeking to remain in the State.