422. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to introduce a one-off scheme to clear the backlog of persons in the protection process in advance of the introduction of a single protection procedure, as put forward by the Irish Refugee Council; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1037/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I have no plans at present to introduce a one-off scheme to clear all protection applications currently on hand. The length of time applicants spend in the protection process is a matter to be addressed and you will be aware that an independent Working Group was set up by Government in October 2014 to report on improvements 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. A number of NGO's active in the asylum area, including the Irish Refugee Council, are represented on the Working Group.
The Working Group is due to report to Government with its recommendations by Easter 2015 and I think it is important that the Working Group be allowed to continue its work without pre-empting the outcomes at this stage. I will consider whatever recommendations are put forward by it, including in relation to the processing of protection cases on hand, when it completes its work.
The Deputy may be interested to know that there are a number of initiatives already in place to address the number of cases in the protection system which are yielding significant results. 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. 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. It is now proposed to extend the use of that panel to the processing of asylum applications. I have also recently decided to appoint an additional nine members to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to assist with the processing of asylum and subsidiary protection appeals on hand. 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.
The Deputy may also be aware that there is a political commitment among EU Member States against any form of process that would grant residence status to persons present in the state without first examining the merits of their individual cases. Broad regularisation programmes are problematic, in particular as they could give rise to unpredictable and very costly impacts across the full range of public and social services.