I welcome Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, to the House. The issue I raise is one that has become a source of contention given the fear and worry of some people about the deadline for passport applications. I will preface my remarks by complimenting the excellent staff of our Passport Offices in Dublin but in particular in Cork. I had the pleasure of using the service in Cork. I commend the passport card. It is an example on which we can really work.
This is the critical season for travel. We have only two Passport Offices, one in Dublin and one in Cork. Since 2017 we have seen an increased and a complex workload in the Cork office with entitlement checks required in passport applications from the North, the UK and foreign missions. The Cork Passport Office processes one third of all passports. Since 2017, 800,000 passports have been issued but all have been printed in one central location in Balbriggan. The figures from March show that there has been a backlog, in some cases of 70,000 applications. I accept we have seen the provision of 200 extra temporary staff in the Passport Office during this critical period. However, in tandem with the need for a printing machine in Cork, we should see an increase in the number of permanent staff in the Passport Office.
It is important to recognise that more and more people are travelling. The recession has ended and people are applying for passports. There are more first-time applicants, more young families travelling with children. Therefore, there is a need for a passport printing machine in Cork in order that we can ensure expeditious processing and printing of passports and that we can reduce the turnaround time for applicants. There should be a passport printing machine in Cork because, as the Minister of State knows, it is not just about Cork but it is about the province of Munster and the hinterland. This will make it easier for everybody, including the staff and for those travelling abroad.
I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, who cannot be here, will be able to look in a positive manner at the need for the people of Cork and Munster to have such a facility. I know we do more and more online but we have one location for printing. We must make it easier for people requiring emergency passports or people who must travel to Dublin to get their passports by having such a facility in Cork. It might also ease the gridlock and the congestion in Dublin.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, for being here and look forward to his reply. I will conclude by complimenting the staff in the passport office in Cork.
I hope those who have gone in to the office have found it as easy as I have. I am certainly not proficient in technology but being able to go in, make one's appointments, wait for between ten and 15 minutes, come back, have one's business done and receive one's passport card or the passport itself in an expeditious manner is something we all want. This could be done better by having a printing machine in Cork.