Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Questions (425)

Holly Cairns


425. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice if new citizenship applications are being accepted and processed at present; if a photocopy of a passport will be accepted in the case of delayed processing until the application process has started and passport verification requested, given that persons applying who need their passports for essential travel need to have their passports returned in a timely manner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2678/21]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

My Department has not suspended the receipt or processing of citizenship applications at any stage during the pandemic. However, processing rates have unfortunately been negatively impacted by the attendant health and safety related restrictions.

The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

It is a requirement of the naturalisation process that a current passport must accompany every application. The identity of every applicant must be confirmed to the greatest extent possible and a passport is a primary identifier. Under normal circumstances, passports are returned approximately 10 days after their receipt. However, the current limits on staff attendance in the office due to COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in delays in the return of some passports.

Applicants are advised not to send in their application during the pandemic if they anticipate that they may have to travel at short notice. However, I fully appreciate that people may have to travel at short notice for emergency reasons. The citizenship website advises that in these circumstances, applicants should email the citizenship helpdesk with the relevant details including postal tracking reference if available. Any request must be accompanied by appropriate scanned supporting material detailing the reasons for travel, such as medical information. Any request of this nature is dealt with promptly.

I am conscious that a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during Covid-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented the holding of such ceremonies, which are usually attended by hundreds of people and which have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life. Earlier this week, I opened a temporary system which will enable citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. This temporary system is in place from 18 January 2021 until citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence.

It is expected that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March.