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 continued to accept new applications for international protection and provided a limited registration service to new applicants. Applicants were 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. 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 up to months to complete their preliminary interview and receive their Temporary Residence Certificate. This practice continued as of April 2022. In a press release published on 8 April 2022, the Irish Refugee Council noted that in many cases, these applicants were staying in emergency accommodation where they had limited access to support and information. Moreover, without a Temporary Residence Certificate, applicants were unable to obtain PPS numbers and consequently, were not receiving their Daily Expense Allowance, thereby forcing individuals to live in abject poverty for long periods of time. In some instances, children were unable to access education, despite having arrived in the State several months previously. A parliamentary question answered by Minister Roderic O’Gorman in April 2022 revealed that as many as 1200 applicants are awaiting an appointment to complete their preliminary interview.
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.
In October 2021, the International Protection Office introduced a revised international protection questionnaire. The revised questionnaire is substantially shorter and more user-friendly than its predecessor. Additionally, the questionnaire can now be downloaded from the IPO’s website, completed and submitted by email. The online questionnaire is available in English, French, Arabic, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu. It is understood that whereby an individual presents in person at the IPO to make their application the questionnaire is available in a greater variety of languages.
The questionnaire is 39 pages long and divided into a Part A and Part B. Part A contains useful definitions of important words, as well as instructions to be followed by applicants in completing it.
Part B is divided into 14 parts across approximately 29 pages (applicants are permitted to attach additional pages, if needed):
Part 1 gathers the principal applicant’s basic biographical details (full name, identification numbers, address, former addresses, contact details, nationality and ethnicity).
Part 2 requests information pertaining to the applicant’s family, with separate spaces for spouses/civil partners, dependent children, siblings, parents, other adult family members and family members currently in Ireland.
Part 3 collects information on the applicant’s education and employment history, including formal education/training and employment/self-employment.
Part 4 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 and their fears if returned.
Part 5 focuses on state protection and asks whether the applicant reported what happened to them in their country of origin and seeks details on the applicant’s criminal record.
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 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. 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 8 requires information as to any serious medical conditions the applicant or his/her dependants or both, have, as well as any documentary evidence of same.
Part 9 of the questionnaire contains information relating to the s.35 interview and asks the applicant if they would prefer a male or female interviewer/interpreter, what language they would like to conduct the interview in, as well as any special requirements they might have for the duration of the interview.
Part 10 requests that the applicant provide all available supporting documentation that may be relevant to their claim for both international protection and permission to remain in the State and provides examples of documents that may be submitted.
Parts 11-14 of the questionnaire asks for information about the completion of the questionnaire, including details of any assistance received and the details of the applicant’s legal representative, if applicable.
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 March 2022.
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 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. Anecdotal reports show 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 until 2021, when anecdotal evidence indicated a slight increase in the capacity of the Legal Aid Board.
From 2016-2020, The Irish Refugee Council’s Law Centre and Information and Referral Service assisted with approximately 318 questionnaires since the coming into force of the IPA. In 2021, the Irish Refugee Council Independent Law Centre moved away from providing assistance on questionnaires only, owing to the slightly increased capacity of the Legal Aid Board in this regard. The Law Centre provided ongoing representation to 180 clients in 2021, with 23 clients being recognised as refugees.
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.
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), where the applicant can then avail themselves of voluntary medical screening and counselling. Due to a lack of capacity in the Direct Provision system, some applicants are instead brought to emergency accommodation. This proves problematic, as it means that a person may not receive the same support offered at Balseskin.
After a short period, 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.
Throughout most of 2021, newly arrived asylum seekers were subject to medical checks screening at the Dublin airport. Applicants were required to self-report symptoms of COVID-19 and subsequently transferred to dedicated facilities to undergo self-isolation. According to government policy, newly arrived applicants were required to self-isolate for a two-week period. However, in the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, individuals and families were often kept in quarantine for extended periods, sometimes up to 28 days.
Following the roll-out of the vaccination programme, newly arrived applicants who were fully vaccinated were not required to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine. However, in the experience of the Irish Refugee Council this policy was applied arbitrarily, with a number of applicants still being required to undergo quarantine for a two-week period, despite being fully vaccinated on arrival in Ireland.
Owing to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the latter part of 2021, applicants were once again required to self-isolate on arrival in Ireland. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that applicants who test negative after a short period of isolation will be released from mandatory quarantine and transferred to temporary accommodation.
 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 and Law Centre, January 2022.