64. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to address the concerns and fears of those persons living in direct provision who are applying through the single procedure process. [15638/17]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The International Protection Act 2015 was commenced on 31 December 2016. The new single application procedure under the Act, will, in time, significantly accelerate the protection determination process and by extension will reduce the length of time which applicants spend in State provided accommodation.
The new system will ensure that all aspects of a person's claim (Asylum, Subsidiary protection and Humanitarian Leave to Remain) are considered together rather than sequentially as heretofore.
A comprehensive information process has been put in place by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and the new International Protection Office (IPO) to ensure that protection applicants and their legal representatives are aware of the provisions of the International Protection Act 2015. The transitional arrangements of the Act 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).
I am informed by the Chief International Protection Officer (CIPO) 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 arrangements 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).
The relevant mailshot was sent on an incremental basis initially to both adult applicants in Direct Provision accommodation, and to those with private addresses, in English followed by material in 17 other languages. The questionnaire is now available in 19 languages, including English, as is the information booklet. 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.
In order to ensure that 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 Deputy that the information sent to applicants in January/February 2017 made clear in paragraph 7.30 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.
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 that the 'if possible' time-frame is some sort of statutory deadline, that the IPO again wrote to the members of the Customer Liaison Panel to confirm the arrangements and that similar clarification has been 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 Officer after 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 time-scale 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.