I propose to take Questions Nos. 82, 83 and 85 together.
There has been a lot about passports this evening, but I will keep talking about them if Members want me to. I will arrange to have the figures requested by the Deputies on passport applications from counties Dublin, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway and Donegal shared directly with them following this session. Applications from various counties are distributed for processing across the three passport offices in Dublin and Cork on the basis of the type of application rather than county of residence of the applicant. Passport application turnaround times are the same for all citizens regardless of county or, indeed, country of residence.
The passport service recently reduced its turnaround time on first-time passports from 40 working days to 30. This is a significant reduction given the unprecedented volume of applications being received. The passport service is focused on reducing this processing time even further in the coming months. The service is currently experiencing high demand for first time passports, particularly for children. There are currently 88,000 online first-time applications in the system. The service has issued over 400,000 passports to date in 2022. To put this number in context, 634,000 passports were issued in total in 2021. In four months, up to the end of April, the service has issued over 63% of the total number of passports issued last year. Demand for passports continues to be very high with unprecedented levels of applications continuing to be received. Over 130,000 applications were received in April alone.
Passport service figures show that of the total number of passport applications in the system, 61% are fully complete and are being processed by the service. The other 39% of applications are incomplete, which means the service is waiting for the applicant to submit the necessary documentation required. While the service makes every effort to contact applicants in such circumstances, its experience is that many applicants take weeks and sometimes months to send in the necessary documents. Applications that are incomplete cannot be processed within the average turnaround times.
The Irish passport was recently ranked fifth in the Henley Global Passport Index because it provides our citizens with visa-free access to 187 countries. This is something we can all be proud of. However, in order to maintain this ranking and to protect the integrity of the Irish passport, the passport service must validate the true identity of the applicant and take measures to confirm the applicant's entitlement to Irish citizenship. This is particularly important in the case of first-time applicants.
The resourcing of the service to respond to current demand for passports is a priority for my Department, which has been working with the Public Appointments Service on a major recruitment drive. Since June 2021, more than 300 members of staff at all grades have been assigned to the passport service. In addition, the service is running its own recruitment competition for temporary clerical officers with a view to assigning additional staff. Interviews have concluded and candidates are currently undergoing Garda vetting. Following the clearance process, the service will appoint 150 temporary clerical officers and will see staffing numbers increase to more than 900. This represents a doubling of staff numbers since last summer. These increased staffing levels will be maintained right throughout the year to ensure that demand for passports, particularly first-time applications, is met.
There is an ongoing process of reform within the passport service. This process has delivered a number of transformational improvements for citizens at home and abroad, in particular the roll-out of the Passport Online service. Over 90% of all passport applications, including first-time applications, are now being made through Passport Online. Passport Online is the priority channel for applications as there are many efficiencies built into the system for both the applicant and the passport service. All Irish citizens, including children, can use the online system to renew their passports from anywhere in the world. Passport Online can be accessed by all first-time applicants, both children and adults, in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, all EU member states and most other countries in Europe, as well as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. The Passport Online service recently expanded for first-time applicants in South Africa, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mauritius, Lesotho, Colombia, Panama, Chile, Peru and Ecuador. The Passport Online service offers Irish citizens the ability to apply online for their passport 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a user-friendly, efficient service that consistently offers processing times up to four times faster than paper-based passport renewal applications.
The next major reform under way is the replacement of the core technology underpinning the passport service. The current system, which was launched in 2004, will be replaced by a more modern and integrated system. This complex project is currently at an early stage and officials from my Department are actively working with the vendor to outline the high-level design of the new system. Extensive detailed design, testing and phased implementation is to follow over the remainder of this year and much of 2023. It is intended that the new system will be substantially operational by the end of 2023. This will ensure the passport service benefits from a standard, scalable and resilient technical platform capable of handling increased application volumes while maintaining the high standards of security that constitute the hallmark of the Irish passport. I know this is a long reply but I am trying to give as much information as possible to the House regarding the complexity of the system. I am happy to take any further questions Deputies may have.