I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for accommodating me in raising this issue. I express an interest at the outset by acknowledging that civil engineering is my profession. In fact, I understand I am the only civil engineer in the House. The contact I have had with Engineers Ireland regarding the idea of allowing civil engineers to sign section 7 of passport applications comes in the wake of that body's previous contacts with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Passport Office on this issue. Having spoken to a number of chartered engineers, both in Ireland and the United Kingdom, I have noted the differences that exist between the two jurisdictions. In the UK, engineers can sign passport applications on behalf of other citizens, a right that is shared with other professions such as Members of Parliament, dentists, fire service officers and even chiropodists. In Ireland, on the other hand, only a garda can sign section 5 of a passport application. Given that more than 600,000 people apply for a passport each year and it takes a garda, on average, five minutes to complete the relevant paperwork, that is the equivalent of approximately 30 gardaí being tied up with this task. Those 30 gardaí might be better placed fighting crime in communities. It is time to review our arrangements for approving passport applications.
I will focus this evening on section 7 of the passport application form, which deals with minors. Everybody under the age of 18 must have the consent of his or her parent or guardian to obtain a passport, and this consent must be witnessed. Witnesses can come from a number of sectors of society, including members of the Garda Síochána, members of the clergy, medical doctors, lawyers, bank managers, elected public representatives, commissioners for oaths, peace commissioners, school principals and vice principals, and accountants. Thus far, the Department has rejected repeated requests from Engineers Ireland for the inclusion of chartered engineers in this category of persons. As Engineers Ireland has pointed out, engineers have an ethical and legal status that is well established in law. It is entirely reasonable to suggest that a profession whose integrity is perhaps more intact in the public mind at this time than that of bank managers, lawyers or even some members of the clergy should be allowed to perform this particular function. Their doing so would reduce the paperwork burden on other professions and, as such, I do not expect that members of those professions would object to chartered engineers being afforded the same status as them in this regard.
I understand the Department keeps this matter under review. Will the Minister of State give an update on the status of the most recent request by Engineers Ireland for the inclusion of chartered engineers?