Dáil Éireann - Volume 504 - 05 May, 1999

Written Answers. - Refugee Legal Service.

52. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will give details of the establishment of the refugees legal service and progress in setting up a working committee for the service; if he will give this committee a formal complaints procedure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11556/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The refugee legal service commenced operations on 22 February 1999 from the Refugee Applications Centre in Lower Mount Street. It is an independent, comprehensive legal service to assist asylum seekers in exercising their legal rights in all aspects of the Irish asylum procedure including representation at appeals.

In addition to the service being provided by solicitors employed by the legal aid board, the [305] board will be engaging private solicitors who will be paid on a fee per case basis, in accordance with the board's private practitioners' scheme for legal services as provided for certain District Court family law cases. The legal aid board is awaiting clearance of draft terms and conditions from the Department of Finance in order to proceed with the establishment of a panel of private practitioners who will provide such a service in compliance with the board's terms and conditions.

Comprehensive training commenced on 13 January 1999 and is provided on an ongoing basis. This training is provided in conjunction with the UNHCR. Interpretation and translation services will be provided as required by private agencies.

The legal aid board will also be taking over responsibility from the UNHCR for the management of the research and documentation centre.

I am in the process of establishing an independent monitoring committee for the refugee legal service. The role of the monitoring committee is to ensure that a quality refugee legal service is provided in accordance with the arrangement agreed between the legal aid board and the Department and to investigate complaints from customers of the service. Persons with suitable experience and expertise have been invited to serve on the committee. I am awaiting confirmation from one member, all others have confirmed they will be in a position to serve on the committee.

It is proposed to appoint an officer from my Department to act as secretary to the committee. In relation to its overseeing role, it is envisaged that the committee will meet approximately four times a year. Depending on the incidence of complaints received more frequent meetings may be required.

Responsibility for investigating complaints about the quality of the refugee service will be vested in the secretary to the committee. The outcome of these investigations will be considered by the committee at its regular meetings and the result communicated to the legal aid board and the Department where necessary. The committee will produce an annual report.