MORE than 2,300 of the country's asylum seekers in full-time accommodation have been in the system for more than three years.

The incredibly slow pace of progress in clearing the backlog of applications cost at least €26m last year, just to provide bed and board.

The Department of Justice has said new legislation to tackle the growing length of time involved in dealing with applications will be enacted shortly.

The time spent dealing with asylum claims has continued to grow despite a major fall-off in the number of asylum seekers coming to Ireland.

The Department of Justice said: "As of [this week], there are 6,352 persons residing in 52 Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) accommodation centres around the country, a decline of 9% from the 7,002 persons residing at the end of 2008. RIA's budget in 2010 is €77.5m.

"Approximately a third of those currently residing in RIA accommodation first claimed international protection in Ireland three or more years previously.

"The number of new asylum applicants in 2009 was 2,689, down from 3,866 in 2008. The fall in new asylum applications is not necessarily reflected in the numbers currently in RIA accommodation."

Immigration sources said the volume of applicants in accommodation for more than three years reflected the number of legal challenges winding through the courts.

Asylum seekers have a number of avenues open to them before they face deportation.

Aside from their original application, they have an automatic right of appeal to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Judicial reviews are also being mounted, which in some cases have ended up in the Supreme Court.