I am glad that the Deputy has asked this question because it is good to put this issue on the record. My Department is responsible for citizenship by descent through the Foreign Births Register under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the processing time for foreign birth registrations, FBR, applications stood at 18 months due to an unprecedented surge in applications as a result of Brexit and the necessarily rigorous processing that applies to citizenship applications. At present, there are just over 31,000 applications in the foreign births registration system.
During the pandemic, passport service staff were reassigned to the HSE for essential contact tracing, to the Department of Social Protection for the processing of essential PUP payments and to support the Department of Health with quarantine issues. This resulted in a pause in overall FBR processing while Passport Office staff continued to provide an emergency service for foreign birth registration in cases of exceptional urgency.
More than 4,500 emergency FBR applications have been processed in 2021. The FBR service continues to consider urgent requests to expedite an application on a case-by-case basis, in cases such as expectant parents, or stateless persons.
In cases of exceptional urgency, FBR applicants may continue to contact the passport service directly by telephone or webchat on the Department’s website, www.dfa.ie
The passport service is actively planning to resume processing FBR applications as soon as possible. My Department is committed to allocating further resources to assist with the high volume of applications, with a focus on reducing turnaround times to pre-Covid-19 levels by the end of 2021. In the medium term, changes to the FBR process to increase efficiencies and improve the customer experience will be delivered under the next phase of my Department's passport reform programme.
In simple terms, Deputy, we have had to prioritise through the Covid-19 pandemic as to where are we focused our staff effort and, of course, we are dealing with emergency cases, and will continue to do that. We have processed nearly 5,000 of those this year but this has to be seen through the lens of the emergency that we been living through over the past 18 months.