€7.7m paid to Refugee Appeals Tribunal members since 2001

FINE GAEL has again called for an urgent revamp of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal following revelations that €7.7 million has been paid to 33 part-time members since 2001.

Jim O’Keeffe, the party’s justice spokesman, called for a reform of the tribunal due to the high costs and concerns about its performance.

“Certain members have refused almost every single application for asylum, while others are said to have been very lenient,” the West Cork TD said.

“Neither approach is satisfactory given the complex issue of asylum seeking, but this inconsistency has resulted in a flood of judicial appeals and reviews from applicants. The number of judicial reviews arising out of tribunal hearings has soared from just 11 in 2002 to 159 in 2005, costing taxpayers a further €2.7m last year.

“This inconsistency is not surprising given that tribunal members receive only minimal training, and there is no guarantee that they have an appropriate background for the position.”

Mr O’Keeffe said figures released by the Justice Department to him under a parliamentary question showed one of the 33 part-time members of the tribunal received more then €780,000 since 2001 - including €21,000 in January and February alone.

“The Refugee Appeals Tribunal is becoming a serious burden on taxpayers, and must be reformed as a matter of urgency,” he said.

The tribunal, which is a statutory independent body, was established to deal applications for refugee status which had been turned down by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

In operation since November 2000, it is made-up of a full-time chairman and 33 part-time members and has examined over 23,000 decisions up to the end of 2005.

The Justice Department’s parliamentary reply stated: “In line with the general downwards trend in asylum applications from, for example, 11,634 in 2002 to 4,323 in 2005, the cost of the operation of the tribunal can also be expected to continue to fall.”

Mr O’Keeffe said a reform of the tribunal should ensure it is required to publish its decisions. He urged the department to create a permanent tribunal of 10 full-time members, with an option for five extra part-time members, chaired by someone from a judicial background.

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