The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, has said that the reduction in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland is a 'vindication' of the policies he has pursued over the last two years.

Mr McDowell was speaking at a meeting of police officers from a number of European countries in Co Monaghan today.

He said when he took office there were eleven or twelve thousand people a year seeking asylum but that had now dropped dramatically.

Those seeking asylum from countries like Nigeria and Romania now had their applications 'fast tracked' and were dealt with within a couple of weeks.

Minister McDowell issued a stern warning, saying those who wanted to come to Ireland illegally and their traffickers were wasting their time and money as they will be sent home.

Irish people too had to understand, he said, that there were immigration laws and they would be implemented.

The two-day conference in Carrickmacross is hosted by the Criminal Assets Bureau and is being attended by experts from a number of organisations, including Interpol and the International Monetary Fund.

Delegates will hear from officers of the Criminal Assets Bureau and their Northern counterparts, the Assets Recovery Agency, on how cross-border co-operation works in practice.

Commissioner releases 2004 asylum figures

Earlier, new figures were released showing that the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland fell by 40% last year.

Figures for 2004 from the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner show that applications fell by two fifths to just under 4,800, from 8,000 the previous year.

The figures also show that 1,117 people were refused leave to land in the first three months of this year.

They were turned away on arrival at an Irish port or airport or held until a flight could be arranged.

In the same period, 237 people were granted refugee status.

A total of 1,250 applications have been received in the first three months of this year.

Almost half these came from Nigeria with the remainder from Somalia, Romania, Afghanistan and Sudan.

The overall total of asylum applicants recognised as refugees from 2000 to 2004 is 5,800.