There has been a very substantial increase in the number of passports issued in recent years. The passport offices in Dublin and Cork issued 467,653 passports last year which is more than double the number issued as recently as 1996. A number of factors have given rise to the increase in passport demand over recent years. These include an increase in the population in the State, a substantial rise in the number of people travelling abroad, due to higher disposable incomes and cheaper airfares, and a rise in the number of children being issued with individual passports.
Almost 90% of passports are issued within ten working days which compares very favourably with the level of service available internationally. I am satisfied with the level of staff resources available in my Department to meet the demand for passports. The Passport Office currently employs almost 200 permanent staff at its offices in Dublin and Cork. These are supplemented by temporary staff on a seasonal basis as required. Overall staffing numbers have been increased in recent years and are continually kept under review.
The technical systems for processing passport applications have, however, reached the limits of their capacity and are urgently in need of replacement. The passport office is currently engaged in a major project to modernise the passport issuing service. The project will streamline the process of issuing passports and enable a more efficient service to be provided to the public. A new, more secure passport booklet will be introduced when the new system is implemented later this year. When completed, Ireland will have one of the most advanced passport issuing systems in the world.