I propose to take Questions Nos. 25, 28 and 37 together.
Once the potential impact of Covid-19 became obvious, contingency planning commenced to minimise the impact of restrictions on the delivery of passport services. In particular, plans were put in place to ensure that we continued to provide an emergency service for the issuance of passports in cases of serious illness or death abroad.
The Passport Service also assisted those whose applications were regarded as urgent. While staff were on site during the pandemic, carrying out this necessary work, they also produced approximately 6,000 additional passports. The additional passports were adult passport renewal applications received online which required minimum staff intervention.
In addition, as part of the response to the crisis, personnel from the Passport Service have been and will continue to be redeployed into other essential public service roles, such as assisting the HSE with contact tracing and facilitating the payment of social welfare benefits for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
The Passport Service has now started a phased return to full operation. This planning is in line with the wider Government plan to reopen in phases. The Passport Service resumed the processing of non-essential online applications on the 9 June (in Phase 2 of the Government Roadmap) and produced over 12,000 passports in the first week of operation. There are currently 32,000 applications in our system being processed. The Passport Service has a great deal of experience in dealing with peaks in demand, and we believe that we are well-placed to ensure the online service will be meeting its usual turnaround times of approximately two weeks by the end of the month.
We encourage all applicants to apply via the Passport Online service which has won awards for its user-friendly process, including a NALA award for the use of plain English. If an applicant is not familiar with using a computer, a friend or relative with basic computer skills can help them to apply online – the process only takes ten minutes to complete. Passport Online can also facilitate social distancing, given that a renewal application for an adult does not require the signature of a witness.
Passport Online expanded in 2019 to include first time applicants, both children and adults, in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain and Europe. Irish citizens, including children, can also renew their passports online 24/7, from anywhere in the world.