Written Answers. - Passport Regulations.

363.

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is aware of recent difficulties being experienced by people seeking passports arising out of new regulations issued necessitating the signature of a member of the Garda on the application form: if he will consider extending the type of person who can verify knowing an applicant; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

364.

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason he changed the regulations in regard to the signing of passports; and if he is satisfied that the new system is fair to the Garda and the public.

I would like to take Questions Nos. 363 and 364 together.

I am aware that in a number of cases in the Dublin area it has proved difficult for passport applicants to identify themselves to a Garda station. My Department have drawn the attention of the Department of Justice and the Garda authorities to these problems, and I hope that they can be eliminated without delay.

The system previously used in Dublin involved the acceptance of other witnesses of identity by the passport office. The system already in use in the rest of the State, whereby only a certificate from a Garda officer is acceptable, has now been extended to the Dublin area, from which about 45 or 50 per cent of applications come.

The Garda authorities have made it clear for their part that the options for identifying a citizen are very wide, and that they can use a very wide range of people to satisfy themselves of a person's identity.

The reason for the recent change in procedure was to preserve the integrity of the passport application system, and of the passport itself. Concern had been expressed over recent years that a small number of Irish passports might be abused by drug smugglers or other criminals. There are two main forms of possible abuse: false application and alteration or forgery of a passport. We have tackled both of these, firstly by improving the standard of the passport itself, and then by asking all applicants in the State to have their identity certified by a member of the Garda Síochána.

The system of identification in question has worked without problems in the rest of the State (including urban areas) for many years, and I am confident that the transitional problems in certain areas of Dublin can be ironed out rapidly. I appreciate that in some cases it may be less convenient for applicants to have to go to a Garda station, but the integrity of the passport is important.

The system involves only identification. There is no question of approval of the Garda authorities being required for an applicant to get a passport.