Interpretation services for international protection applicants of ‘varying quality’, forum hears

No qualifications needed for interpreters who help applicants with interviews of vital importance

Ireland takes a “bare minimum approach” to its legal requirement to provide applicants for international protection (IP) with adequate interpretation services, a conference on language and the law heard on Friday.

Although engaged in what can for many be one of the most important interviews of their lives, many IP applicants find themselves having to make use of interpreters who do not have to have qualifications or training.

The system has become “even worse” in recent times with the use of online interviews during the appeals system so that interpreters “of varying quality” are not in the same room as the applicants, solicitor Wendy Lyons told a conference organised by the Association of Translators and Interpreters Ireland (ATII).

Ms Lyons, who said she always advises clients to wait for an in-person meeting even if it delays matters, said she asked one of the companies supplying interpreters to the International Protection Office how they establish the language levels of the interpreters and what training they had been given in managing remote hearings, but had not been given a reply.


Solicitor Dia Silverstein said interpreters played a crucial role in an applicant’s claim but were poorly paid. Bad interpretation can lead to conflicts in the case applicants are presenting which in turn can damage the credibility of their claims.

Ms Silverstein said the Department of Justice, which tenders for the services of the companies that provide interpreters, “should introduce more quality control at the procurement stage”.

Hassina Kiboua, a solicitor with the Irish Refugee Council, said her research indicated that interpreters were not sure as to the extent to which they should simply translate what is being said, act as “cultural interpreters” or even give advice. Confusion existed also among the officials conducting interviews involving the use of interpreters as to whether they should simply translate or help explain what it was that was being said.

Barbara Rovan, president of the European Legal Interpreters and Translators Association, of which ATII is a member, said the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms says everyone charged with a criminal offence has to have the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand the language used in court.

An EU directive from 2010 said member states should endeavour to establish a register or registers of independent translators and interpreters who are appropriately qualified, she said. No such register exists in Ireland.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent