The right to apply for asylum is contained in Section 15 IPA. When a person presents themselves either at the IPO or at the frontiers of the State seeking international protection, he or she shall go through a preliminary interview at a time specified by an immigration officer or an international protection officer. That time limit is not, however, specified in the IPA.
In the case of families applying for international protection, all adult family members must make their own applications. An adult who applies for protection is deemed to be applying on behalf of his or her dependent children where the child is not an Irish citizen and is under the age of 18 years and present in the State, or is born in the State while the person is in the protection procedure or not having attained the age of 18 years, enters the State while the parent is still in the protection procedure. There is no separate right for accompanied children to apply for asylum independently even if they have different protection grounds to their parents.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19 in Ireland, the IPO continues to accept new applications for international protection and is providing a limited registration service to new applicants. Applicants are permitted to attend the IPO on a restricted basis in order to make their application for asylum.
Once an applicant presents to the IPO, the applicant makes a formal declaration that they wish to apply for international protection, outlined under Section 13 IPA. The applicant is interviewed by an authorised officer of the IPO to establish basic information. The preliminary interview takes place in a room where other applicants are waiting and being interviewed, and is conducted by an official who sits behind a screen. If necessary and possible, an interpreter may be made available. Interpreters are provided by the IPO and typically must be requested in advance. Whereby an applicant presents without having requested an interpreter and an interpreter is not available, it is usually the case that the applicant’s basic details are taken by the IPO and they are then called back at a later stage, once an interpreter can be arranged.
The information provided by the applicant at interview is inserted into a standard form by the IPO officer entitled ‘IPF1’. The IPF1 contains the applicant’s biographical data, including their name, address and nationality , as well as the route travelled to Ireland and a brief summary of their asylum claim. The contents of the form are read back to the applicant, who is then required to sign it, and a copy is provided to them.
The purpose of this initial interview is to establish the applicant’s identity; country of origin; nationality, details of the journey taken to Ireland, including countries passed through in which there was an opportunity to claim asylum and any assistance obtained over the journey and the details of any person who assisted the person in travelling to the State; the method and route of entry into the state (legally or otherwise); brief details of why the applicant wishes to claim asylum, their preferred language and whether the application could be deemed inadmissible under Section 21 IPA. This interview usually takes place on the day that the person attends the IPO, though due to restrictions associated with the Covid-19 outbreak and resultant delays, sometimes applicants were called back for their initial interview on a separate day following registration of their claim. In such circumstances, the time period between a claim being registered and the initial interview taking place varies on a case-to-case basis. In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, typical waiting periods are approximately 2-4 weeks. However, the Irish Refugee Council Information and Referral Service is aware of cases whereby it has taken clients 2-3 months to complete their preliminary interview. If the person is detained, the interview may take place in prison.
The applicant is required to be photographed and fingerprinted. If the applicant refuses to be fingerprinted, he or she may be deemed not to have made a reasonable effort to establish his or her true identity and to have failed to cooperate.
The information taken at the screening interview enables the IPO to ascertain if the person applying for asylum has submitted an application for asylum in, or travelled through, another EU country by making enquiries through Eurodac which will assist in determining if the Dublin III Regulation is applicable or not.
Application for International Protection Questionnaire
At the end of the preliminary interview the applicant is given detailed information on the asylum process. This information is available in 18 languages. The applicant is given an in-depth questionnaire, the Application for International Protection Questionnaire, in their preferred language, which must be completed and returned within 20 working days. In response to expressions of concern from civil society, NGOs and legal advocates regarding the 20-day ‘deadline’, the Department of Justice has indicated that this is not a statutory deadline but an indicative, administrative timeframe in which applicants should aim to have their questionnaire returned to the IPO. As such, the Department has made clear that there are no negative consequences if questionnaires are not returned within the timeframe. Therefore, applicants may submit the completed questionnaire beyond the 20 working days. As a precautionary measure, the Irish Refugee Council recommends that applicants indicate in writing to the IPO if they require more than 20 working days to submit the questionnaire. Applicants will not go into the “queue” for a substantive international protection interview until they have submitted their completed Questionnaire.
As part of the new consolidated asylum process under the IPA, all of the details relevant to a claim for international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection and permission to remain), including details relevant to the right to enter and reside for family members, are compiled within this single, detailed questionnaire. In the previous system, applicants would have made separate applications for refugee status, subsidiary protection and leave to remain respectively, and all details related to family reunification would be collected in an application subsequent to being granted refugee or subsidiary protection status. As such, the questionnaire plays a crucial role in the status determination process and section 1 of the introductory preamble to the questionnaire recommends that the applicant “seek legal advice” to assist with completing the Questionnaire. Contact details for the Legal Aid Board, who assist applicants for international protection, and other relevant statutory bodies and international organisations are included in an annex to the Information Booklet for Applicants for International Protection, which applicants receive at the same time as the Questionnaire. If the Questionnaire is not in English it is submitted by the IPO for translation, usually to a privately contracted translation and interpretation firm.
The questionnaire itself is much more in depth than previous iterations issued by ORAC and requires information that bears relevance across every stage of the protection process. The rationale behind this is that all information relevant to assessing numerous grounds for international protection will be captured at the first instance, with the intention of reducing the duration of the process overall.
The questionnaire is divided into 13 parts across approximately 60 pages (applicants are permitted to attach additional pages, if needed):
Part 1 gathers the principal applicant’s basic details (full name, identification numbers, address and contact details).
Part 2 requests general information pertaining to the principal applicant, including languages, medical conditions relevant to the application and circumstances affecting the applicant’s capacity to attend interviews at the IPO (including special needs, etc.).
Part 3 collects basic biographical information.
Part 4 is for inputting family information, with separate spaces for spouses/civil partners, dependent children, parents, siblings and “other dependents”.
Part 5 allows for the applicant to detail all documentation potentially relevant to the application, including material already submitted and that which may be submitted at a later date.
Part 6 gathers visa, residency and travel information pertaining to previous travel outside of the country of origin of the principal applicant and his/her dependents.
Part 7 focuses on the basis of the claim for protection, allowing space for the applicant’s personal testimony; questions on any grounds for both refugee status and subsidiary protection; any action taken by the applicant to obtain protection in their country of origin; whether the person could relocate elsewhere within their country of origin; their fears if returned; whether or not the applicant or their dependants have been “sought, interrogated, arrested, detained or imprisoned by the state authorities in any country”; any affiliation to religious, political or other organisations and any military/paramilitary activity.
Part 8 contains information on whether or not the applicant has lodged an application for protection or residency in other countries, including applications lodged with UNHCR.
Part 9 deals with permission to remain; in the event that the applicant should be refused both refugee status and subsidiary protection, the minister will take into account the person’s personal circumstances in order to determine whether he or she may be permitted leave to remain on the basis of humanitarian considerations. In the previous system, this would have been considered once all initial applications for protection and appeals had been exhausted. However, under the new system, a case for permission to remain must be lodged at the first instance, which will be taken into account automatically in the event that other protection avenues are denied. The applicant is encouraged to notify the IPO of any new information or circumstances pertaining to permission to remain at any stage they might arise in the process, including following an appeal at the IPAT, which adds an extra degree of responsibility upon the applicant. It is important to note that under S.I. 664/2016 International Protection Act (Permission to remain) Regulations 2016 an applicant only has a five-day period to provide a further submission on permission to remain after the IPAT decision.
Part 10 of the questionnaire contains information relating to possible future applications for family reunification, including details of family members who may be eligible for reunification, such as a spouse, civil partner, minor children, and the parents of unaccompanied minor applicants. As per the restricted definition of ‘family’ for the purposes of family reunification under Section 56 (9) IPA, part 10 of the questionnaire contains no provision for dependent or extended family members.
Parts 11-13 of the questionnaire asks for information about completion of the questionnaire, including any assistance received in its completion and the details of the applicant’s legal representative, if applicable.
Upon registering their claim, the applicant is issued a Temporary Residence Certificate which comes in the form of a plastic card and is referred to the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS). If the applicant requires accommodation, he or she will usually be taken to Balseskin Reception Centre in Dublin (near Dublin airport), though due to a lack of capacity in the Direct Provision system, some applicants are brought directly to emergency accommodation, this is problematic as it means a person may not receive the supports that are offered at Balseskin. Upon arrival at Balseskin, the applicant is entitled to avail themselves of voluntary medical screening and counselling.
After a short period of time the applicant may be transferred to a Direct Provision centre elsewhere in the country. Applicants typically do not have any say as to where in the country they are transferred, however the clinical team at Balseskin medical centre may request a “hold” to keep certain applicants in Dublin on the basis of medical, psychological or other needs. Applicants may make their own arrangements for accommodation if they have the financial resources to do so, however it is crucial that they keep the IPO apprised of their address as any correspondence in relation to their claim will be sent to that location. Following the onset of Covid-19, newly arrived asylum seekers were subject to medical checks at Dublin airport. Applicants were screened on the basis of health questionnaires, subject to temperature checks and were required to self-report symptoms of Covid-19. Based on their personal situation and circumstances, applicants were then transferred to designated facilities for the purposes of self-isolation for a two-week period.
On the coming into force of the IPA in January 2017, all applicants in the system (including those who had previously lodged applications and were awaiting a decision following their substantive interview before ORAC) were issued with the new questionnaire. The fact that some people who had already completed a questionnaire and been interviewed under the old system were being expected to recomplete a more detailed questionnaire and attend the IPO for a subsequent interview caused a great deal of confusion amongst applicants, particularly in relation to the workability of the ‘20 day deadline’. This prompted the IPO to issue clarification on the submission timeframe, and the office reiterated on their website that the return timeframe is “purely an administrative deadline to commence the processing of single procedure applications as soon as possible.” The 20-day non-statutory deadline remains in effect as of January 2021. While the majority of legacy cases have now been processed to completion, a number continue to be dealt with.
Applicants for protection are directed to the international protection unit within the Legal Aid Board for free legal assistance and support completing the questionnaire, once they have entered the international protection process. However, the Irish Refugee Council has assisted a number of people who had registered with the Legal Aid Board and had been told to complete the questionnaire by themselves due to a general lack of capacity within the Legal Aid Board or a lack of capacity within the solicitors on the Legal Aid Board panel, with anecdotal reports that the level of funding provided to the panel is insufficient to cover the number of hours required to give comprehensive representation. This issue persisted throughout 2020.The Irish Refugee Council’s Law Centre and Information and Referral Service have assisted with approximately 318 questionnaires since the coming into force of the IPA. A number of other issues arising in connection with the questionnaire include (on the basis of Irish Refugee Council casework): translation errors in a number of the non-English questionnaires; persons with special needs being provided with the questionnaire but provided with no assistance completing it (i.e. illiterate applicants being provided with the questionnaire despite being unable to read it); people receiving questionnaires in English where there exists no version in their preferred language. This issue persists for a small number of languages such as Tigrinya.
 The consequences of such refusal are laid out in Section 38 IPA.
 Application for International Protection Questionnaire, draft document received from ORAC by the Irish Refugee Council in November 2016.
 Information provided by the Irish Refugee Council’s Drop-in Centre database, January 2021.