ALMOST 4,000 illegal immigrants were deported or removed from the State in the past year.
The total includes nearly 3,700 people who were refused entry at air or sea ports and sent back to their previous addresses.
A further 280 failed asylum seekers and illegals were deported to their home countries, with Nigerians topping the list, ahead of South Africans, Pakistanis, Moldovans and Georgians.
A total of 111 of these were deported on charter flights and 169 on scheduled commercial aircraft, while Ireland participated in seven shared flights, which were organised by the EU borders agency Frontex on behalf of a number of member states.
The figures were released last night by Justice Minister Alan Shatter. He said the removal of illegal immigrants from the State was a necessary feature of the enforcement of immigration legislation to uphold the integrity of the system.
An additional 144 asylum "shoppers" were transferred to the EU member state in which they had first applied for asylum under the Dublin Convention.
This agreement means that asylum seekers could not "shop around" within the EU and were obliged to pursue their application wherever it was first lodged.
Rather than face a deportation order, another 475 people opted to return home voluntarily, of whom the majority were from Brazil, Moldova, Nigeria, Georgia and Mongolia.
Provisional figures for last year show that 1,250 new asylum applications were submitted, down from 1,939 the previous year.
These compare with a massive 11,600 applications in 2002 when the use of the asylum system by economic migrants was at its peak.
The figures also indicate that about 5,400 asylum seekers were being accommodated in 'direct provision centres' in the State by the end of December.
Meanwhile, Ireland's first visa waiver programme, which was launched as a pilot programme, has been warmly welcomed by all tourism interests, Mr Shatter said.
The programme, he said, had helped the drive to attract more tourists from emerging markets and would remain in place until at least October 31, covering the period of the London Olympics.
He pointed out that major reforms had been introduced to the processing of citizenship applications, aimed at tackling the backlog that had arisen as a result of the huge increase in the volume of naturalisation applications in recent years.