Dept of Justice sought €97m to tackle asylum 'unprecedented increase'

Internal departmental records show how it expected to go up to €60m over budget in 2019 because of the rise in applications for international protection.

Dept of Justice sought €97m to tackle asylum 'unprecedented increase'

The Department of Justice looked for an extra €97m in funding to deal with an “unprecedented increase” in demand for accommodation of asylum seekers last year.

Internal departmental records show how it expected to go up to €60m over budget in 2019 because of the rise in applications for international protection.

The department said increasing asylum claims were having “an immediate and very costly impact” and were also slowing down how quickly applications could be dealt with.

In correspondence with the Department of Public Expenditure, senior officials warned that increased “processing times” were “in turn … acting as a pull factor” in attracting asylum seekers here.

The €97m request was one of a series of pleas for additional funding made by the Department of Justice ahead of Budget 2020.

The Data Protection Commissioner was granted just €1.6m of the €5.9m it had been seeking to deal with a doubling of complaints in the space of just two years.

In a request for additional money, the Department of Justice wrote: “While resources are increasing, the DPC is still somewhat behind similar organisations in other jurisdictions in terms of resource levels.”

Forensic Science Ireland also received less than half of the money sought despite a massive rise in demand for its services.

In its budget submission, the department said there were “significant backlogs of cases that are having a negative impact on the criminal justice system”.

It said that the gap between capacity and demand kept growing, with a 30% increase in “sexual assault submissions” in the first quarter of 2019.

The department said: “DNA cases increasingly involve more suspects and more analysis needs. More complex drug cases are increasing at a faster rate than total drug cases combined.”

Despite seeking an extra €5.5m in funding for the office, the Department of Public Expenditure granted €2.5m, or 45% of what was looked for.

The Inspector of Prisons also received just €700,000 of the €1.9m that had been looked for in advance of the budget. Patricia Gilheaney, the inspector of prisons, told RTÉ Radio last summer that the office did not appear to be “fit for purpose” because of the small budget available to it.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said that the budget had been “framed in a difficult budgetary context” particularly because of Brexit uncertainty. It said significant increases in funding had been received by the department, including €120m in current expenditure and €70m in capital funding.

Its request for €90m in funding for direct provision accommodation was prepared at a time when there was a “sharp rise in the number of international protection applicants arriving”. However, arrivals subsequently slowed down.

A yearly increase of 60% in applications had been predicted, but that this had subsequently plateaued at 40%.

The department said a significant allocation had been made to Forensic Science Ireland for the construction of its new laboratory in Kildare, while €2.5m in funding was reallocated as a result of integration of some roles from the Garda National Technical Bureau.

The spokesman said the Data Protection Commissioner’s budget has increased from €3.6m in 2015 to €16.9m in 2020.

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