Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Committee on Public Petitions

Direct Provision Policy and Related Matters: Discussion (Resumed)

Mr. David Delaney:

First, on the Senator's question with regard to the system being fully operational by 2024, I will give some assurances in that regard. The Catherine Day recommendation of the 3,500 applications per annum in and, therefore, a similar number reaching decisions breaks down into approximately 290 cases per month. We cleared 390 cases last month. Significant work has been put in place to make that happen. To give an indication of some the innovation and work that is being done by the staff in the office and prior to my arrival, we are now up to 80 interviews per week, all conducted via videoconference facilities. Many of them have to facilitate an interviewer, the applicant, an interpreter and, quite often, a legal representative. There are a number of moving parts to all of those 80 individual interviews that are scheduled per week. From that perspective, I would not say we are already at our fully operational 2024 level because we have a lot of work to do to clear aspects of the backlog, but in terms of the Catherine Day recommendation on what we should be able to take in and reach a decision on we are currently at that level, even with the Covid restrictions. That is a credit to an awful of people in the office to be able to make that happen, throughout the past few months especially.

The chatbot system, which we hope to roll out very soon, is a little icon on our webpage which is programmed to identify key words that are typed into it as questions. When those key words are identified, they will generate an appropriate answer. Rather than people having to trawl through five, ten or 15 different links on webpages or having to send an email for fairly basic responses on aspects of the asylum process or their claim, the chatbot can given an instantaneous response. That is the chatbot function that we hope to roll out very soon. It is the same service that is being provided currently by our citizenship chatbot. We are confident it will be able to do this. We also hope to programme it with multiple language facilities such that it will be able to deal with multiple clients. We are familiar with the languages that, in the main, our clients present with so we will be prioritising those languages. We hope to then scale up the chatbot function to interact with our more modern systems. When someone asks the status a claim we will be able to respond that the claim is at X position and they should be hearing from us in a day, a week or a month. That is further down the road; it is a 2024-type measure. Getting in place the chatbot which I have just described is a high priority for us because it will give that sense of comfort to our clients on a daily basis that they can get information much more easily than is the case currently. I hope that covers the Senator's questions.