95. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality in view of the distress being caused to asylum seekers in the direct provision system as a result of delays in processing their applications, if she will allocate extra staff resources in order to expedite the processing of requests for asylum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9427/15]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I have previously acknowledged that the length of time that applicants spend in the protection process is a matter that needs to be addressed particularly in light of the sharp increase in asylum application volumes in 2014 and so far in 2015. The Deputy may be aware that an Independent Working Group was established in October 2014 to recommend to the Government what improvements should be made to the protection process, including direct provision and supports to asylum seekers. One of the tasks of the Working Group is to identify improvements to existing arrangements for the processing of protection applications taking account of the Government's intention to legislate for a single application procedure.
The Group began its work in November last under the Chairmanship of retired High Court Judge, Bryan McMahon and its membership is drawn from a range of interests in the international protection area including UNHCR, non-governmental organisations (including the Irish Refugee Council), protection applicants, academia, and relevant Government Departments and Offices. The Working Group is due to report to Government with its recommendations by April 2015.
With regard to protection legislation my objective is to reform the current multi-layered and sequential system which can result in applicants being accommodated in the State's system of direct provision for indeterminate periods of time. The introduction of the single procedure will enhance our capacity to efficiently grant international protection to those who are entitled to it. At the same time, it will identify, at a much earlier stage, persons who have no entitlement to stay in the State and who can safely return to their country of origin. I intend to publish the General Scheme of the International Protection Bill once it has been approved by Government.
Notwithstanding the deliberations of the Protection Working Group and the imminent publication of the International Protection Bill, a number of other initiatives have already been put in place to address the number of cases on hand in the protection system which are yielding significant results. Various strategies are being utilised to deal with cases on hand including the scheduling of interviews on Saturdays. The transfer of subsidiary protection application processing to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in late 2013 has resulted in decisions in some 825 cases at first instance by the end of 2014. In addition, a further 1,300 subsidiary protection applications have either been withdrawn or deemed withdrawn. The processing of these cases has been greatly aided by the establishment of a legal panel set up to assist the Commissioner with this work. Based on the success of the use of the panel it is now planned to expand it and extend its remit to include the processing of asylum applications. An advertisement seeking new panel members was placed in national newspapers in February.
The Deputy should also be aware that the time taken to process a protection application to finality can be prolonged by the lodging by applicants of appeals with the Refugee Appeals Tribunal against determinations made by ORAC or the taking of judicial review proceedings against decisions made at various stages of the protection determination process. To assist with processing at the appeals stage of the process I have recently appointed nine additional members to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. These members have been selected from those who were considered suitable for appointment following a competitive process involving the Public Appointments Service.
My Department is also actively considering what other measures can be taken to reduce the number of cases on hand at the leave to remain stage of the process in advance of the introduction of a single application procedure.