General (scope, time limits)
There is no time limit in Irish law for the IPO to make a decision on an asylum application at first instance. Under Section 39(5) IPA, if a recommendation cannot be made within six months of the date of the application for a declaration, the IPO may, upon request from the applicant, provide information on the estimated time within which a recommendation may be made. However, there are no express consequences for failing to decide the application within a given time period. Applicants can be called back for a subsequent interview in relation to their claim, occasionally a number of months after their initial s.35 interview was conducted.
Since the commencement of the IPA and the single procedure, reliable data on processing times has not been made available as the IPO continues to deal with pre-IPA transition cases in addition to increasing new arrivals. Prioritised applications (see below) will receive a decision (known as a recommendation) in nine months, cases that are not prioritised will likely be waiting 15 months for a recommendation on their application.
Prioritised examination and fast-track processing
Prioritisation is dealt with under Section 73 IPA, giving the Minister power to “accord priority to any application”, or “to any appeal” in consultation with the chairperson of the Tribunal. Under Section 72(2) the Minister may have regard to certain matters such as whether the applicant is a person (unaccompanied child) in respect of whom the Child and Family Agency is providing care and protection.
The grounds for prioritised applications are not explicitly set out in the IPA but Section 73(2) states that in according priority the Minister may have regard to the following:
- whether the applicant possesses identity documents, and if not, whether he or she has provided a reasonable explanation for the absence of such documents;
- whether the applicant has provided a reasonable explanation to substantiate his or her claim that the State is the first safe country in which he or she has arrived since departing from his or her country of origin;
- whether the applicant has provided a full and true explanation of how he or she travelled to and arrived in the State;
- where the application was made other than at the frontier of the State, whether the applicant has provided a reasonable explanation to show why he or she did not make an application for international protection, or as the case may be, an application under section 8 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) immediately on arriving at the frontier of the State unless the application is grounded on events which have taken place since his or her arrival in the State;
- where the applicant has forged, destroyed or disposed of any identity or other documents relating to his or her application, whether he or she has a reasonable explanation for so doing;
- whether the applicant has adduced manifestly false evidence in support of his or her application, or has otherwise made false representations, either orally or in writing;
- whether the applicant has adduced manifestly false evidence in support of his or her application, or has otherwise made false representations, either orally or in writing;
- whether the applicant, without reasonable cause, has made an application following the notification of a proposal under Section 3(3)(a) of the Immigration Act 1999;
- whether the applicant has complied with the requirements of Section 27(1) IPA;
- whether the applicant is a person in respect of whom the Child and Family Agency is providing care and protection;
- whether the applicant has, without reasonable cause, failed to comply with the requirements of paragraphs (a), (c) or (d) of Section 16(3) IPA which refers to reporting obligations.
Applications from certain nationalities can be prioritised, which leads to a quicker determination of the application and the curtailment of appeal rights. Other nationalities (currently applicants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYROM, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Georgia and South Africa) may also find themselves subjected to a truncated procedure on the grounds that those countries have been designated by the Minister for Justice and Equality as Safe Countries of Origin. If an applicant is from a country designated a safe country of origin, a burden is placed on the applicant to rebut the presumption that they are not in need of international protection (see section on Accelerated Procedure). An IPO Customer Liaison Panel meeting was informed in 2019 that a shorter Questionnaire was planned for applicants from Safe Countries of Origin, however this has not materialised to date.
On 27 January 2017 UNHCR issued a statement in conjunction with the International Protection Office on the prioritisation of applications, which remains in effect as of 2019 as the IPO continues to deal with a backlog generated by the transition into the single procedure. Under the IPA, the scheduling of interviews occurs under two processing streams, which run concurrently on the basis of ‘oldest case first’ and according to specific criteria warranting prioritisation.
According to the UNHCR and the IPO statement setting out the prioritisation procedure: 
- Stream one will comprise the majority of applications, which will be scheduled mainly on the basis of oldest cases first. This includes new applications made after the commencement of the IPA as well as those cases that were under processing prior to the new procedures coming into force. Within this stream, cases will be scheduled according to the following stages and order of priority:
- pending subsidiary protection recommendations;
- pending appeal at the former Refugee Appeals Tribunal;
- pending refugee status recommendations.
- Stream two will also be processed on the basis of oldest case first. Stream two pertains to both cases that were open before the commencement of the IPA and those lodged after that meet specific prioritisation criteria:
- The age of applicants – under this provision the following cases will be prioritised: unaccompanied minors in the care of Tusla; applicants who applied as unaccompanied minors, but who have now aged out; applicants over 70 years of age, who are not part of a family group;
- the likelihood that applications are well-founded….;
- the likelihood that applications are well-founded due to the country of origin or habitual residence (specifically, Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya and Somalia);
- health grounds – applicants who notify the IPO after the commencement date that evidence has been submitted, certified by a medical consultant, of an ongoing severe/life threatening medical condition will be prioritised.
The IPA allows for a preliminary (non-mandatory) interview of the applicant upon arrival on the territory of the State in order to, among other things, capture basic information about the applicant before they formally register an application for international protection. Section 13 IPA enables an immigration officer or an IPO officer to conduct the preliminary interview. It is not clear from the legislation when it would be an immigration officer or an IPO officer conducting the interview, but the immigration officer must furnish a record of the interview to the Minister. Under Section 13 IPA, the preliminary interview seeks to establish, among other details: whether the person wishes to make an application for international protection, as well as the grounds for that application; the identity, nationality and country of origin of the person; the route travelled by the person and other travel details, and whether any initial inadmissibility grounds arise in the case. If differences occur in the statements furnished by the applicant in the preliminary and substantive personal interviews, a negative credibility finding may be made in respect of the applicant’s application.
The law provides for a further substantive personal interview for all applicants, including those prioritised, after the submission of the in-depth International Protection Questionnaire. The substantive interview is conducted by an International Protection Officer who will have extensively reviewed the applicant’s questionnaire and relevant country of origin information in advance. The purpose of this interview is to establish the full details of the claim for international protection and address any issues or inconsistencies arising from the questionnaire and other material supplied to the IPO for the purposes of the case. The interview can last a number of hours, depending on the circumstances of the particular case. A legal representative can attend the interview and is asked to sign a code of conduct to be observed when attending the interview. Private practitioners who are funded by the Legal Aid Board to provide legal representation to applicants are not funded to attend the interview. The Irish Refugee Council’s Independent Law Centre attends interviews with their clients. The vast majority of substantive personal interviews are conducted face to face at the IPO in Dublin, however the IPO is piloting video conference interviews at the current time; applicants are not obliged to conduct their interview in this manner and may seek to have a face-to-face interview scheduled instead if they so wish. A small number of face-to-face interviews were also held outside of Dublin in 2019, in Tipperary Town, under a pilot process, however this was discontinued due to difficulties in accessing public transport.
The system under the Refugee Act 1996 obliged the ORAC to conduct separate interviews for each application being submitted, i.e. refugee status or subsidiary protection. This led to systematic delays whereby, if a person goes through the refugee application process (including an interview) and is ultimately denied status, that person must begin the process anew and attend another interview if he or she wants to apply for subsidiary protection. However, since the commencement of the IPA on 31 December 2016, consideration of eligibility for refugee status, subsidiary protection and permission to remain is given under a single interview, as held in Section 35 IPA.
A personal interview may be dispensed with where the IPO officer is of the opinion that:
- based on the available evidence, the applicant is a person in respect of whom a refugee declaration should be given;
- where the applicant has not attained the age of 18 years, he or she is of such an age and degree of maturity that an interview would not usefully advance the examination; or
- the applicant is unfit or unable to be interviewed owing to circumstances that are enduring and beyond his or her control.
Where an applicant does not attend his or her scheduled interview, the application may be deemed to be withdrawn. However, the IPO will first contact the applicant to find out if there is a reasonable cause for his or her failure to attend the interview. An applicant may make representations in writing to the IPO in relation to any matter relevant to the investigation following the interview and the International Protection Officer shall take account of any representations that are made before or during an interview under Section 35 IPA. Representations may also be made by UNHCR and by any other person concerned.
International Protection Officers are required to “be sufficiently competent to take account of the personal or general circumstance surrounding the application, including the applicant’s cultural origin or vulnerability” and must provide the services of “interpreters who are able to ensure appropriate communication between the applicant and the person who conducts the interview.” Whilst this is not laid down in legislation, in practice the applicant may request the IPO officer and/or interpreter be of a particular gender.
Unaccompanied children are usually accompanied by their social worker or another responsible adult. Where this is the case, the officer conducting the interview will require the accompanying adult to prove that he or she is responsible for the care and protection of the applicant. Section 35(5)(a) IPA states that interviews are conducted without the presence of family members save in certain circumstances where the International Protection Officer considers it necessary for an appropriate investigation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that such circumstances rarely occur. The interview is the primary opportunity for the applicant to give their personal account of why they are seeking international protection and cannot return home.
Section 35(2) IPA states that an applicant who is having a substantive interview shall, whenever necessary for the purpose of ensuring appropriate communication during the interview, be provided by the Minister or International Protection Officer with the services of an interpreter. As mentioned above the IPA requires that interpreters are fully competent and able to ensure appropriate communication between the applicant and the interviewer. If an interpreter is deemed necessary for ensuring communication with an applicant, and one cannot be found, the interview is usually postponed until one can be found. There are no known languages of countries from which protection applicants in Ireland typically originate for which interpreters are not available. If issues arise between the applicant and the interpreter during the interview (for example, in circumstances where the interpreter speaks a different dialect of the language requested by the applicant, or where the applicant is uncomfortable with the interpreter provided for any reason), the applicant is encouraged to indicate this to the International Protection Officer and/or their legal representative. This may involve postponing the interview until the issue can be resolved and/or another interpreter can be found.
As it stands, there is no recognised qualifications framework or established standards, set out in legislation or elsewhere, on the recruitment of interpreters by public bodies, including the IPO. Most interpreters are sourced from a private company that has a contract to provide access to interpreters. The result is that quality of interpreting, in the experience of Irish Refugee Council, varies significantly, with anecdotal reports of interpreters interpreting in the 3rd person, having a standard of English which is less than that of the Applicant, or having insufficient or inappropriate vocabulary to deal with particular claims – e.g. claims related to sexual orientation or gender identity or religious conversion claims. Since 2016, the Irish Refugee Council has rolled out an interpreter training programme for French and Arabic interpreters that focuses on promoting best practice interpreting techniques, interpreting practice, terminology used in the asylum process, and, ethics and a code of conduct. The training also provides interpreters with practical exposure through role-playing, involvement in Irish Refugee Council casework and an overview of the asylum process. So far, 35 people have been trained with a new training round due to commence in 2020.
Typically, the officer conducting the interview makes a record of the information given and that information is read back to the applicant periodically during the interview or at the end of the interview and are requested to sign each page to confirm that it is accurate or to flag any inaccuracies. In the event that typographical errors are present in the record, the Applicant may amend the record and initial the change in the margin; for more substantial changes the page may be re-printed or a supplementary page may be printed. The interview is usually recorded via hand-typed transcription on a desktop. There is no system for independent recording of the interviews (interviews are not audio or video recorded), even where a legal representative is not present. A copy of the interview record is not given to the applicant or their legal representative until and unless the applicant receives a negative decision. If a negative decision is issued then the applicant and the legal representative receive a copy of the interview record. In some cases, a subsequent interview is required, for example if there are further questions that need to be asked or if the authorised officer has done further research. Interviews may on occasion be adjourned in the event that there is a problem with interpretation or illness.
Appeal before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT)
Decisions of the IPO may be challenged before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) within 15 working days of receiving a negative decision. The IPAT is the second-instance decision making body for the Irish asylum process. The IPAT is a quasi-judicial body and, according the IPA, it shall be independent in the performance of its functions. Under Section 41 IPA, the IPAT may hear appeals against recommendations that an applicant not be given a refugee declaration, or recommendations that an applicant should be given neither a refugee declaration nor a subsidiary protection declaration. The IPA also hears appeals regarding Dublin III Regulation transfers and on paper, inadmissibility appeals. Applications to the IPAT must be made in writing, within a given time-frame, including the grounds of appeal and whether or not the applicant wishes to have an oral hearing.
Section 61(4) IPA states that members of the IPAT shall be appointed by the Minister. They work and are paid on a per case basis. The IPAT consists of a Chairperson, two deputy chairpersons, and such number of ordinary members appointed on either a whole-time or part-time capacity as the Minister for Justice and Equality, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform, considers necessary for carrying out the extent of the casework before the Tribunal.
In 2018, the IPAT received a total of 2,127 appeals, an increase of 140% from 2017. 1,174 appeals were scheduled for hearing, an increase of 181% from 2017. 1,092 decisions were issued, an increase of 80% from 2017. In 2019, the IPAT received a total of 2,064 appeals, almost the same number as in 2018. 2,633 appeals were scheduled for hearing, an increase of 124% from 2018. 1,944 decisions were issued, an increase of 78% from 2018. Figures in IPAT’s Annual Report for 2019 state that 1,585 appeal decisions were handed down in 2019, 482 of which granted the applicant a form of protection status whereas 1,133 of the 1,585 decisions denied the applicant protection.
Where an oral hearing is held, these are conducted in a relatively informal manner and in private. The applicant’s legal representative may be present as well as any witnesses directed to attend by the Tribunal. Witnesses may attend to give evidence in support of the appeal, e.g. a country of origin expert or a family member. The Presenting Officer for the IPO also attends. UNHCR may attend as an observer. Pursuant to section 42(8)(d) of the Act of 2015, and in line with the Chairperson’s Guideline 2019/1 on Taking Evidence from Appellants and other Witnesses, the Tribunal may require all persons (over the age of 14) giving evidence before it to give that evidence on oath. Appellants and other witnesses whom the Tribunal requires to give evidence in this manner will be given the opportunity to affirm if they are a non-believer or if the taking of an oath is incompatible with the person’s belief. 
Section 42(6)(c) IPA provides for the services of an interpreter to be made available whenever necessary for the purpose of ensuring appropriate communication during the interview.
Before reaching a decision, the Tribunal considers, among other things:
- Notice of Appeal submitted by the applicant or their legal representative;
- All material furnished to the Tribunal by the Minister that is relevant to the case;
- Any further supporting documents submitted by the applicant or their legal representative, as well as any observations made to the Tribunal by the Minister or the UNHCR;
- Where an oral hearing is being held, the representations made at that hearing.
The length of time for the Tribunal to issue a decision is not set out in law. In 2018, the average length of time taken by the IPAT for processing and issuing a decision on an international protection appeal was approximately 154 days. The average processing time for appeals to the IPAT in 2019 is 23 weeks. The IPAT have a target median waiting time of 14 weeks for appeals by the end of 2019.
Under Section 49(7) IPA, where the Tribunal affirms a recommendation from the IPO that an applicant not be declared a refugee nor in need of subsidiary protection, the Minister may reassess the eligibility of the applicant to be granted permission to remain. For the purposes of such a review, the applicant may submit documentation or information to the IPO about a change of circumstances relevant to a review of permission to remain (such as evidence of an established connection to the State, information indicating humanitarian reasons to grant permission to remain, etc.). Such information must be submitted within a period of time prescribed by the Minister under Section 49(10) IPA.
On 11 March 2014, the Chairperson of the RAT issued Guidance Note (No: 2014/1) which stated that from that date any person may access the archive of Tribunal decisions for any lawful purpose. The Note also stated that all matters that might identify a person as an applicant for refugee status have been removed/omitted so that the identity of applicants is kept confidential; if removal could not sufficiently protect the identity of an applicant the decision would not be published. This is a significant change in practice; a major criticism of the RAT in the past has been that decisions were not publicly available. Access to the online Tribunal decisions archive requires completion of a simple registration process upon which the user is furnished with a password valid for one year for use with the database.
A decision of the IPAT (as with the IPO) may be challenged by way of judicial review in the High Court. This is a review on a point of law only under Irish administrative law and cannot investigate the facts. In addition, the applicant must obtain permission (also called ‘leave’) to apply for judicial review. This is a lengthy and costly process.
During 2018, 530 judicial review applications were submitted to the High Court on the “Asylum List”. Despite efforts to reduce the number of judicial reviews submitted, figures for 2018 represent an increase from previous years. Cases on the “Asylum List” also include judicial review of decisions in relation to other immigration matters such as EU treaty rights, naturalisation and family reunification. 130 cases were resolved by the High Court in 2018, 332 cases were settled out of court.
With regard to 2019 figures, responding to a Parliamentary question in October 2019, the Minister for Justice and Equality stated that “presently there are 460 judicial reviews against the Department of Justice and Equality taken by applicants who are entitled to access Direct Provision if they so wish. These are comprised of 207 cases against International Protection Office decisions and 257 against International Protection Appeals Tribunal decisions.”
The Legal Aid Board, an independent statutory body funded by the State, provides a dedicated service for international protection applicants. To qualify for legal services in respect of their asylum application, the applicant’s income (less certain allowances) must be less than €18,000 per annum. Applicants in Direct Provision (the state system of reception, accommodation and support for protection applicants) are generally eligible for legal services at the minimum income contribution, but may apply to have some of the contribution waived, at the discretion of the Legal Aid Board. Strictly speaking, there is a small fee to be paid of €10 for legal advice and €40 for representation, but this is invariably waived by the Legal Aid Board.
According to the latest available information in the Legal Aid Board’s Annual Report for 2017, the number of persons seeking legal services from the Board for international protection applications in 2018 was 2,079. This was an increase of 28% on the previous year.” No data is available for 2019.
Asylum applicants can register with the Legal Aid Board as soon as they have made their application to the IPO. All applicants are assigned a solicitor and a caseworker. There are three branches of the Legal Aid Board that have dedicated international protection units, with law centres located in Cork, Galway and Dublin cities, including a specific unit in the Dublin law centre that deals with international protection applications made by children. The Legal Aid Board has normally provided services only at the appeal stage but now they are also including services in-house for early legal advice (ELA) and via a Private Practitioners’ Panel whereby private solicitors provide ELA for the Legal Aid Board for a set fee. The ELA service normally does not cover attendance at the actual personal interview with the applicant and only covers guidance on completing the Questionnaire rather than actual assisting with the completion of the Questionnaire form itself. The Legal Aid Board has established some best practice guidelines under the new procedure. The Irish Refugee Council has noted, however, that an increasing number of individuals presenting at its drop-in services who are represented by the Legal Aid Board do not receive substantive support in actually completing the Questionnaire but it is reviewed by a Legal Aid Board caseworker once the applicant has attempted to complete it themselves.
Since 2011, the Irish Refugee Council Independent Law Centre has run a free ELA service which involves providing intensive legal assistance to the applicant at the very early stages of the asylum process. The ELA package offered by the Irish Refugee Council Law Centre provides an initial advice appointment with a solicitor (preferably prior to the application for asylum being made), accompaniment to lodge an application, assistance with the completion of the in-depth application questionnaire and drafting of a personal statement based on the applicant’s instruction, attendance at the substantive interview and submission of representations. In November 2015, following the success of the Irish Refugee Council’s ELA programme, the Law Centre published a manual on the provision of ELA to persons seeking protection. The manual is geared towards promoting best practice towards practitioners working in the EU asylum context. The Law Centre (with a staff team of one managing solicitor, one senior solicitor and a caseworker in 2019) assisted 145 new early legal advice clients throughout each stage of their international protection application. 80% of first instance decisions received by the Irish Refugee Council Law Centre in 2019 were positive.
Free legal aid for appeals to the IPAT is available through the Legal Aid Board. In the event that an appeal to the IPAT is unsuccessful, the applicant must first of all seek the assistance of a private practitioner to get advice about challenging the decision by way of judicial review in the High Court. If they cannot get such private legal assistance, the Legal Aid Board will consider the merits of the application for judicial review and may apply for legal aid to cover the proceedings but it is important to note that judicial review will only be an appropriate avenue in some circumstances and should not be viewed as an appeal procedure.
Since the enactment of the Reception Conditions Regulations, transposing the Reception Conditions Directive, the Legal Aid Board has responsibility for providing legal assistance to international protection applicants in matters pertaining to reception conditions (such as appeals on decisions made in relation to withdrawal or restriction of reception conditions, or refusal of a work permit, etc.) The Legal Aid Board guidance states that it is generally open to solicitors to “provide legal advice in relation to a matter covered by the Regulations, and in line with the further guidance provided below in relation to specific matters. Unless an application is received from an applicant who is not an existing client of the Board, it is not to be regarded as a separate matter and should be dealt with as part of the international protection file.” No information is available about how this has worked in practice.
 There is no time limit in law. Alan Shatter, then Minister for Justice, stated in July 2013 that a reason Ireland was not opting in to the recast Asylum Procedures Directive was because the recast proposed that Member States would ensure that the examination procedure was concluded within 6 months after the date the application is lodged, with a possible extension of a further 6 months in certain circumstances. Alan Shatter stated that these time limits could impose additional burdens on the national asylum system if there was a large increase in the number of applications to be examined in the State, especially considering previous increases in the period 2001 to 2003, available at: http://bit.ly/1Lwomep.
Section 35(8) IPA.
Section 35(3) IPA.
 Section 41(2)(a) IPA; Section 3(c) International Protection Act 2015 (Procedures and Periods for Appeals) Regulations 2017.
 IPAT, Annual Report 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2zRFNZp, 33.
 Ibid, 52.
 Ibid, 44.
 Guidance Note No: 2014/1, Access to Previous Decisions of the Tribunal, 11 March 2014.
 For further information, see The Researcher, ‘Early Recognition of People in Need of International Protection: The Irish Refugee Council Independent Law Centre’s Early Legal Advice and Representation Project’, October 2013.
 Regulation 6(8) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.