The barrister wife of former Fianna Fail minister Barry Andrews received more than a €1m for briefs from the Attorney General's office to fight asylum applications in the past five years.
Sinead McGrath BL is among eight of the earners in asylum cases who dominate the top echelons of barristers paid by the State. Mr Andrews, who was appointed chief executive of the charity GOAL in 2012, was a government minister in 2008 when the State began spending millions in legal costs to fight asylum applications in the High Court.
The list of high earners in the asylum court includes one of the country's top-earning husband-wife legal teams. Emily Farrell BL and Daniel Donnelly BL, who married last year, made €3m between them in the asylum court in the past five years. Mr Donnelly is the son of former Fianna Fail Dublin Lord Mayor, accountant Michael Donnelly, and a candidate for the party in the Dublin South East electoral area.
The little-known asylum court, which sits in courts 24 and 25 in the old Circuit Criminal Court building behind the Four Courts, has become a goldmine for a select number of barristers in the past five years. Figures released last week show that the barristers retained to fight asylum applications are among the highest earners in the overall list of junior and senior counsel retained by the State.
Ms McGrath is recorded as receiving €1,140,832 between 2008 and August last year in the list of payments made by the Attorney General's office. In 2009 she received €263,221 from the State, it is understood, entirely for asylum cases.
As the economy plunged into recession, the Attorney General's office launched into a spending spree on retaining mainly junior counsels to fight applications for asylum. The figures released last week show that from 2008 onwards the barristers retained in the asylum court repeatedly topped the list of barristers paid by the State. The highest- paid barrister in the court, Siobhan Stack, who became a senior counsel only last year, twice topped the list of barristers paid by the AG and was in the top three earners on the list each year between 2008 and last year. Her total earnings between 2008 and August last year were €2,346,064.
Sara Moorhead SC, widow of former High Court judge Diarmuid O'Donovan, who died in 2007, was the next- highest earner in the asylum court, receiving a total of €2,090,043 between 2008 and August last year. She topped the list in 2009 earning €693,823.
The next-highest asylum earner was Anthony Moore BL who received a total of €1,736,427 over the five years. His biggest year was in 2009 when he received €504,565. Next on the asylum list is Emily Farrell who made €1,698,820 over the five years. She was the AG's top-paid earner in 2011 when she received €408,868 and in 2012 when she was paid €519,772. Her husband, Daniel Donnelly, was next with a total of €1,243,619. His top earning year was in 2009 when he received €515,036.
Another asylum case barrister, David Conlon Smith BL, received €1,632,713 over the five years. His top year was in 2010 when he received €372,510. After Sinead McGrath came Cindy Carroll BL, who received €768,832 over the five years.
By contrast with the barristers retained by the State, defence lawyers in asylum cases often work pro-bono, as asylum seekers very rarely receive any legal aid. If the defence lawyers don't win their cases, they don't get paid, according to legal sources. The sources say that despite the huge amounts of money paid by the State to stop asylum seekers gaining permanent residence, defence lawyers have a high rate of success winning cases. It is estimated around 50 per cent of appeals are successful.
Ireland adopted a tough stance on rejecting asylum seekers' applications around 2007-2008 and is now at the bottom of the list for accepting asylum applications in the EU. While countries like Germany and the UK accept between 20 and 30 per cent of applicants, Ireland accepts only around 5 per cent. The last available figures from the EU Commission, published on its Eurostat website, show that in 2011 some 1,365 people applied for asylum in Ireland and only 75 were accepted.
Asylum applicants are kept on the minimum €19 per week plus €9 per week per child.
The Justice figures for 2013 cite only the top five countries for failed asylum applicants as Nigeria, China, Mauritius, Albania and Pakistan but do not account for what other nationalities were involved. With the refugee crisis in Syria, where an estimated two million people have been displaced, it is likely that Ireland will increasingly face applications from that country. A considerable proportion of Syrian refugees are Christians and moderate Muslims who have come under attack from militant Islamist rebels. It is estimated that up to 300,000 Christians have been forced to flee Syria.