QUESTION NOS: 86, 88, 89 & 102
DÁIL QUESTIONS addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald) by Deputy Catherine Connolly
Thursday, 23rd February, 2017.
* 86. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons that have been issued with IPO 2 forms to date; the process being followed for the issuing of these forms to persons in direct provision; when others can expect to receive these forms and the sequence in which they will be received, that is alphabetical, random or decided according to the stage at which their asylum or claim for protection is, currently; the steps that will follow for each individual asylum seeker following submission of the new forms; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Catherine Connolly
* 88. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of protection officers currently employed; the nature of the training they have received; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Catherine Connolly
* 89. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the provisions that have been made for the processing of a large number of IPO 2 forms; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Catherine Connolly
* 102. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will extend the timeframe for completion of the new asylum seeker application form which is causing confusion and stress in view of the fact that asylum seekers are unable to navigate the new 60 page form and access the suggested legal advice within the 20 day deadline period..
– Clare Daly
I refer the Deputies to my response to Questions 112 and 113 of Tuesday 21 February in which I explained the background to the issue of the Application for International Protection Questionnaire (form IPO 2) and dealt comprehensively with the issue of the time afforded to applicants for protection to complete the questionnaire.
A comprehensive information process has been put in place by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and the new International Protection Office to ensure that protection applicants and their legal representatives are aware of the provisions of the International Protection Act, 2015 and particularly how it will impact on protection applicants who are affected by the transitional arrangements. The transitional arrangements apply to certain applications for refugee status and subsidiary protection which were made before the commencement date (31 December, 2016) and were not finalised for processing by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT).
The planning for the commencement of the Act took place during 2016, involving consultation with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and correspondence with applicants alerting them to the transition arrangements. I am informed by the Chief International Protection Officer that, as is required by the 2015 Act, in late January/February 2017 the IPO, in addition to placing advertisements in the national media, wrote to approximately 3,000 applicants whose cases were not finalised by the ORAC or the RAT, to inform them of the commencement of the relevant provisions of the 2015 Act and how the transitional provisions would affect their applications. All applicants received the following documents with the mailshot:
- Information Note – Transitional Arrangements (IPO 12),
- Information Booklet for Applicants for International Protection (IPO 1) and,
- Application for International Protection Questionnaire (IPO 2).
I understand that the relevant mailshot was sent on an incremental basis initially to both adult applicants in Direct Provision and to those with private addresses. That information was sent out first in English followed by material in 17 other languages. Forms are currently being sent out to minors who have applications in their own right.
On 30 January 2017, the IPO wrote to all legal representatives on record, providing comprehensive information on the new legislation. In addition, notices were circulated to Direct Provision centres in relation to the mailshot.
I am also informed by the Chief International Protection Officer that he has held a number of meetings with NGO’s and the UNHCR over recent months, through the IPO Customer Liaison Panel, to brief them on the arrangements for the commencement of the Act and for the notification of applicants in relation to the transitional provisions and how these will be operated in practice.
Early access to legal advice is a recognised success factor in the operation of a single applications procedure and the position in with regard to the Legal Aid Board and its role is set-out in my response to PQ Number 87 also for answer today.
In order to ensure applicants had sufficient time to familiarise themselves with this new system, there is no deadline, statutory or otherwise, set in any correspondence sent out by the IPO. I can inform the Deputies that the information sent to applicants in January/February 2017 made clear in Paragraph 7.3 that the Application for International Protection Questionnaire (IPO 2) should be returned “if possible, no later than 20 working days from the date of the covering letter”. The next paragraph 7.4 went on to state clearly that opportunities to add to the information supplied exist up to two weeks before the scheduled interview. The word deadline or statutory deadline does not exist and no negative consequences for failing to meet an ‘if possible’ time frame were included or implied. The twenty working day time frame reflects the willingness of the IPO to begin work on the new single procedure as soon as possible in respect of legacy applications.
I am happy to restate that this is purely an administrative time-frame and NGOs and service providers have been informed of that throughout the planning process. Flexibility is being provided by the International Protection Office, a call centre is available to answer any queries and if extra time is required for its completion, as the wisdom of accessing legal advice is stressed in the questionnaire, no impediment or disadvantage exists to prevent the careful filling out of the new single application form. I understand, so as to remove any false impressions that may be circulating abroad that the ‘if possible’ time-frame is some sort of statutory deadline, the IPO has again written to the members of the Customer Liaison Panel in the past few days to confirm the arrangements and that similar clarification is being provided on the IPO website.
Applicants have also been clearly advised, as referred to above, that should they or their legal advisors need to provide supplementary information to the International Protection Office after the they have submitted the questionnaire, they can also do so, up to two weeks prior to the date of their scheduled interview, if possible. This timescale will facilitate the translation of documents if required and ensure that the IPO interviewer has all their papers available and considered in advance of the interview date.
In relation to the processing of cases, when the application for International Protection Questionnaire and other supporting documentation is returned by applicants, I am advised by the Chief International Protection Officer (CIPO) that he intends to schedule applications in the IPO primarily on the basis of date of application (oldest cases first). The prioritisation of international protection applications is provided for in the International Protection Act 2015 subject to the need for fairness and efficiency. The CIPO intends to publish a Statement shortly on the planned approach to prioritisation, having consulted the UNHCR and relevant NGO’s on the matter.
There are over 100 staff assigned to the IPO at present all of whom have been authorised to perform the functions of international protection officers. These staff will be used to support the single procedure process and in undertaking a variety of functions such as the registration and fingerprinting of applicants, the issue of Temporary Residence Certificates, the scheduling of cases for interview as well as interviewing applicants and preparing and issuing international protection recommendations and decisions in relation to permission to remain. The permanent staff are supported by a Panel of some 35 persons with legal expertise who are retained on a contract for service basis to undertake interviews and prepare international protection recommendations and permission to remain decisions.
In relation to the issue of training, Deputies will wish to be aware that all staff employed in the IPO, as well as Panel members, have previously served in the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner so they have considerable expertise in the protection area. In addition to this expertise and training already provided, case processing staff and Panel members in the IPO have received substantial training on the assessment of applications in the context of the introduction of the single procedure process and more training is planned over the coming weeks. Such training is provided by a combination of in-house experts in that Office as well as by the UNHCR. In this regard, UNHCR protection and training experts have been located in the ORAC for the purpose of supporting the protection determination process there for a number of years. In the context of the single procedure, a UNHCR expert from Canada with considerable expertise in the operation of a single procedure process is currently working in the IPO for the purpose of developing internal procedures, providing protection training and supporting quality assurance systems. That international expert is supported by other UNHCR experts as required.
You will appreciate that the commencement of the International Protection Act 2015, which provides for the introduction of the single application procedure, represents the most fundamental reform of the international protection process in the State for nearly two decades. Therefore it is essential that no statutory deadline is imposed on applicants by the IPO. The single procedure process, unlike the previous process which involved multiple bodies and procedures, will result in a more streamlined approach contributing to the determination of status for applicants at a much earlier stage than has been the case to date, and consequently, shorter stays in the Direct Provision system.
While it is recognised that, for a transitional period, applicants will be required to become familiar with the new arrangements, I can assure the Deputies that support will be provided by the International Protection Office and other relevant State authorities to ensure that clarity is available to applicants on the new arrangements and how they will impact on individual cases.
QUESTION NO: 87
* To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the resources that have been made available to services such as the Legal Aid Board to assist asylum seekers with the lengthy IPO 2 forms; the means by which asylum seekers have been made aware of such steps; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Catherine Connolly
I am informed that since the commencement of the International Protection Act, the Legal Aid Board has committed to providing all international protection clients with early legal advice on all aspects of their application (including, for example, Asylum, Subsidiary Protection and Permission to Remain). The provision of the Board’s service is consequently front-loaded to the first instance stage (pre-questionnaire and interview).
The Board uses a mixed model of service provision in international protection cases, i.e. a proportion of cases are referred to solicitors employed by the Board, and a proportion of cases are referred to private practitioners on a fee per case basis.
International protection clients receive a full information consultation before completing their questionnaire, wherein the provisions of the Act are explained, their own obligations as applicants are outlined and the requirements of the questionnaire are explained in full.
All clients are provided with a further consultation pre- interview in which legal advice on the particulars of their claim based on their completed questionnaire is given and submissions are drafted and made to the IPO.
Significant additional funding to provide for 15 full time staff for the Legal Aid Board has been provided by my Department. In addition, the budget assigned by the Board for Private Practitioners in International Protection cases has been increased.
The Legal Aid Board’s contact details have been included in correspondence from the International Protection Office to applicants and information on the service provided by the Board is available on the Board’s website, www.legalaidboard.ie.