THE GOVERNMENT has paid solicitors and barristers appointed to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal more than €3 million in 2009 and 2010 for hearing appeals to decisions to refuse refugee status.
There were big differences in the amounts paid to the 35 tribunal members. The top earner, Ennis-based barrister Michelle O’Gorman earned €346,401.16, while one member, Joseph Barnes, earned nothing.
Other high earners include Bernard McCabe, who earned €285,749.42, and former Fianna Fáil politician and minister for foreign affairs David Andrews, who earned €135,187.55 from the tribunal over the past two years.
Mr Andrews has earned more than €600,000 for casework since being appointed to the tribunal on June 5th, 2002, by former minister for justice John O’Donoghue. He was appointed to the post a day before Mr O’Donoghue was moved from the justice ministry to tourism.
Ms O’Gorman, who was appointed to the tribunal in July 2001 by Mr O’Donoghue, has earned €1.03 million from tribunal work in 10 years. She was reapppointed to serve another three-year term by former minister for justice Dermot Ahern last year.
The tribunal was set up in 2000 to hear appeals of asylum seekers who had their applications for protection rejected by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.
It issued 5,892 decisions in 2009 and 2010, granted 345 appeals and rejected 5,547 appeals in 2009 and 2010.
There have been a high number of judicial review applications made against decisions of the tribunal and the Office of Refugee Applications Commissioner.
In 2009 some 749 applications for judicial review were made to the courts and last year there were 950 judicial reviews in asylum cases listed for the High Court.
The tribunal has been criticised for a lack of transparency by human rights lawyers, NGOs and the Fine Gael and Labour Party when in opposition.
It does not make its decisions available to the public or publish information showing how many positive and negative decisions tribunal members make.
Last month former Supreme Court judge Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness said one of the problems with the tribunal was “secrecy”. She called for it to be replaced by an independent appeals system for both refugee and immigration cases, which could be run on judicial lines.
In previous years the highest earner from the tribunal was James Nicholson, who earned €780,000 over a five-year period. He resigned in 2007 when a case was brought to the High Court by three asylum seekers alleging perceived bias by him.
In this case, known as the Nyembo case, the Supreme Court had cleared the way for the High Court to examine records and statistics showing the outcome of the cases dealt with by various members of the tribunal.
The case was settled by the tribunal with the asylum seekers before the relevant documents were discovered and Mr Nicholson resigned.
Last week the EU statistics agency Eurostat found Ireland has the highest rejection rate for asylum claims in the EU.
TOP 10 EARNERS - OVER TWO YEARS
Michelle O’Gorman €346,401.16
Bernard McCabe €285,749.42
Olive Brennan €177,069.04
Margaret Levey €175,149.68
Nehru Morgan Pillay €170,452.64
Fergus O’Connor €160,042.87
Paul Christopher €155,235.98
Ben Garvey €148,482.42
Denis Linehan €139,386.00
David Andrews €135,187.55
Source: Refugee Appeals Tribunal casework fees