Barristers paid €3.6m in refugee hearings

FORMER Fianna Fáil Ministers Michael O’Kennedy and David Andrews have been paid €101,000 and €74,000 respectively to decide upon asylum seekers’ appeals for refugee status.

After retiring from politics, the two senior counsel were almost immediately appointed as members of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal in June 2002. Since then the pair have taken a slice of the €3.6 million paid to barristers to pass judgment on the appeals in the last three-and-a-half years.

Mr Andrews, a former Foreign Affairs Minister, also sits on the advisory board of Ireland Aid, the wing of the Department of Foreign Affairs responsible for dispersal of the Government's Third World aid budget.

Mr O'Kennedy, a former Agriculture Minister and European commissioner, is also chairman of the designate board of the Family Support Agency.

As long-serving TDs and cabinet ministers, the veteran pair also receive State pensions.

But the former ministers are not the highest earners from the refugee appeals board. The lawyer members' lucrative incomes will soon be hit by the dramatic drop in asylum seeker applications in the past year.

Refugee Appeals Tribunal members made over €100,000 in a six-month period last year from hearing asylum seeker cases as almost €1m was paid out to barristers.

But since a Government clampdown and Supreme Court ruling last year, asylum seeker applications have dropped to 400 a month, from 1,000 a month a year ago, meaning a knock-on reduction in appeals.

The Supreme Court L&O ruling in January 2003 determined that parents do not have a right to stay in this country just because of their child's birth here.

The Government's subsequent clampdown on asylum seekers has resulted in the substantial drop in applications.

The Refugee Appeals Tribunal was set up in November 2000 under the Refugee Act 1996 to deal with appeals arising out of recommendations of the Refugee Applications Commissioner on applications for refugee status.

Figures given to Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte in response to a parliamentary question to Justice Minister Michael McDowell shows members have since been paid €3.655m to sit in judgment on appeals.

Top of the list of earners, up to the end of last year, were Jim Nicholson, who has been paid €425,551 since his appointment in November 2000 and Eamonn Cahill, who has earned €346,704 in the same period.

Fees for hearing cases are fixed and depend upon the extent of a case:

Substantive cases with oral hearing €385.

Substantive cases without an oral hearing €240.

Manifestly unfounded cases €150.

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