State has paid at least €30m to asylum-case barristers

Could take over four years to hear 1,300 asylum-related cases in High Court

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has pledged to introduce legislation for a new streamlined applications procedure this year, a proposal which has been made – but not enacted – by several previous ministers.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has pledged to introduce legislation for a new streamlined applications procedure this year, a proposal which has been made – but not enacted – by several previous ministers.

Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 01:00

The State has paid at least €30 million to barristers specialising in asylum cases over the past decade.

The high expenditure on asylum cases, despite a decline in asylum seekers arriving in Ireland over recent years, is linked to a backlog of cases in what legal experts describe as a fragmented and inefficient asylum system.

There are some 1,300 asylum-related cases in the High Court. It is estimated it could take up to 4½ years to hear these cases alone. A breakdown of figures shows several barristers employed by the Attorney General who specialise in asylum have earned, in some instances, between €250,000 and nearly €500,000 since 2002.

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Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has pledged to introduce legislation for a new streamlined applications procedure this year, a proposal which has been made – but not enacted – by several previous ministers.

Under this system, asylum seekers would not have to make separate applications for asylum and another category of protection known as subsidiary protection.

Separately, latest figures show that by the end of this year, the State will have given private firms about €900 million for providing accommodation to people living in asylum centres. These companies are required under contract to provide bed and board, as well as complying with food hygiene and health-and-safety laws.

Overcrowding

However, recent inspections show evidence of overcrowding in a number of centres, poor facilities for children and frequent hygiene and maintenance issues. In some cases, families of five are living in single rooms while families of six are in four-berth mobile homes.

The Reception and Integration Agency, which liaises with the private companies on behalf of the Department of Justice and Equality, has said “temporary overcrowding” can occur due to events such as the arrival of a new family member. In these circumstances, all families are offered alternative accommodation in other centres.

Follow up reports seen by The Irish Times have shown moves have not taken place when recommended. Families in interviews with this newspaper have said they are fearful of asking for rooms of an appropriate size in case they are forced to leave the area and children’s schooling is disrupted.

Inspections

The agency has stated that all 34 centres must be inspected three times a year and that 46 inspections had been carried out to date.

Despite this, no inspection reports have yet been published for five centres – Hatch Hall, Georgian Court and Watergate House in Dublin; and Viking House and Birchwood in Waterford – since the Government began making them publicly available in late 2013.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the department wrote that the agency’s commitment to carry out unannounced inspections was “on course”. It also stated it could only publish inspection reports once correspondence between the agency and private operator was completed and this could sometimes involve “a time lapse of approximately 4-6 weeks”.

Increasing numbers of firms running direct provision centres have moved in recent years to register as unlimited companies, freeing them of obligations to file accounts and shielding their affairs from public scrutiny.

At least five of the larger firms have beneficial owners in offshore jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man.