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Question

274. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of applications in the single procedure application system under the International Protection Act 2015; the number of applications that have been processed within the six month target; the waiting times experienced by those persons beyond six months; the length of time to process such applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3928/18]

275. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons awaiting decisions on asylum applications that applied before the provisions of the International Protection Act 2015 came into force; the length of time those persons have been waiting; the length of time to process such applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3929/18]

276. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied that the International Protection Office has adequate resources to fulfil its obligations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3930/18]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 274 to 276, inclusive, together.
As the Deputy will be aware, the International Protection Act 2015 was commenced on 31 December 2016.  Every effort is being made to process applications efficiently and in a timely manner, in the context of implementing new processes and procedures and dealing with the transitional arrangements under the new Act. Added to this is the demand led nature of applications which has meant a specific processing time limit has not been set by Government as suggested by the Deputy. However, the objective remains that the single application procedure will lead to improvements in case processing times and more timely outcomes for applicants, and work continues towards that objective.  
The 2015 Act introduced a single procedure that enables all grounds for seeking international protection (refugee status and subsidiary protection) or permission to remain in the State for other reasons to be examined and determined in one process.
At the end of 2017, there were some 5,100 applications awaiting processing in the International Protection Office (IPO). Some 2,800 of these applications were made before the commencement of the 2015 Act but were not finalised by the former Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and the former Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) by that date. These applications reverted to be processed by the IPO under the transitional provisions of the 2015 Act. Various categories of cases reverted to the IPO including asylum appeals transferred from the former Refugee Appeals Tribunal and asylum and subsidiary protection cases transferred from the former ORAC. This has added significantly to the IPO’s caseload, but has freed up the restructured and resourced Appeals Tribunal process considerably.
Considerable efforts were required by the IPO in getting the new single procedure processes up and running in the first part of 2017. Notwithstanding, in a consequential shorter processing year, the IPO scheduled over 2,400 single procedure interviews (including in respect of EU relocation cases) once the process was up and running in 2017. Some 1,780 recommendations/decisions in respect of international protection and permission to remain have also been made by the IPO. This includes some 750 recommendations in respect of the grant of international protection.
In relation to the scheduling of interviews and the processing of cases in the IPO, I am also advised that the prioritisation of international protection applications is provided for in the International Protection Act 2015 subject to the need for fairness and efficiency. When the Application for International Protection Questionnaire (IPO 2) and other supporting documentation is returned by applicants, the IPO is scheduling applications for interview primarily on the basis of date of application (oldest cases first). However, certain categories of applicant are also being prioritised such as those who arrive under the Irish refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), from refugee generating countries (such as Syria) and unaccompanied minors. The IPO’s approach to prioritisation has been agreed with the UNHCR, explained to NGOs at the IPO Customer Service Panel and is available on its website : www.ipo.gov.ie .
In respect of a non-prioritised application for International Protection made today, it is estimated it will take approximately 19 months to the date of the interview. Prioritised cases can expect to be scheduled more quickly for interview and most cases under the IRPP are being processed in 8-12 weeks. At the present time, it is not possible to calculate an accurate current median processing time for international protection applications due to the different case types on hands, which were returned to the IPO under the transitional provisions in the 2015 Act.
Considerable additional resources have and are being allocated to the IPO to assist it in undertaking its statutory functions with a view to processing the volume of cases on hands as soon as possible. In 2017, 55 additional staff were assigned to the IPO. The current staffing complement in that office is now 139.9 (as at 19/1/18). In addition, there are some 50 serving members of the IPO’s Legal Processing Panel. The resources assigned to the IPO are being kept under ongoing review as the State cannot predict how many people will present on our shores seeking international protection. During last year there was a twenty per cent increase in spontaneous (i.e. excluding relocation and resettlement) applications for International Protection, which has put increased pressure on the system. Additional resources will be allocated as these become available so that the caseload on hand, both those preceding the commencement of the International Protection Act 2015 and the increased volume of new applications are dealt with as quickly as possible and waiting times for those applying for international protection are reduced to the greatest possible extent.