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Passport Services

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 11 May 2021

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Questions (57, 59, 68, 70, 77, 88, 89, 90, 91, 96, 99, 103, 104, 108, 109, 111)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

57. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Tipperary. [23930/21]

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Michael Moynihan

Question:

59. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Cork. [23934/21]

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James Lawless

Question:

68. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Kildare. [23932/21]

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Barry Cowen

Question:

70. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in counties Offaly and Laois. [23928/21]

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Cathal Crowe

Question:

77. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Clare. [23922/21]

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Willie O'Dea

Question:

88. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Limerick. [23920/21]

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Joe Flaherty

Question:

89. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in counties Longford and Westmeath. [23915/21]

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Marc MacSharry

Question:

90. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in counties Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal. [23927/21]

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Dara Calleary

Question:

91. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Mayo. [23924/21]

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Michael McNamara

Question:

96. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of passport applications that are outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24203/21]

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Cormac Devlin

Question:

99. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Dublin. [23936/21]

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Paul McAuliffe

Question:

103. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the processing of non-urgent passport applications will recommence; the actions his Department is taking to ensure that the backlog of applications resulting from the suspension of same will be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24031/21]

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Matt Carthy

Question:

104. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the actions his Department has taken to address the backlog of passport applications arising from the closure of services due to the pandemic. [23884/21]

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Niamh Smyth

Question:

108. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way the back log of passport applications will be processed; and if he will reassure persons that passports will not be delayed. [23885/21]

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John McGuinness

Question:

109. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Kilkenny. [23919/21]

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Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

111. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timeframe for clearing the backlog of passports applications from applicants in County Carlow. [23917/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 57, 59, 68, 70, 77, 88, 89, 90, 91, 96, 99, 103, 104, 108, 109 and 111 together.

Thank you Deputies, I welcome the opportunity to update you on the scaling up of operations by the Passport Service.

The Passport Service maintained operations throughout the pandemic, notwithstanding the fact that the processing of passports requires physical attendance on site to deliver this service. As a result of well implemented safety protocols during the pandemic, our staff have been able to assist citizens who required passports for a range of emergency and urgent personal, business or legal reasons, or who had compelling humanitarian needs to travel. The range of emergency and urgent personal reasons in which travel by citizens is permitted is set out in Statutory Instrument 168/1921.

I wish to confirm to the House that the Passport Service issued more than 40,000 passports in the first four months of this year – more than one third of the total applications received. This service comprised of

- 3,000 urgent passports, which were issued to citizens who had either urgent personal or humanitarian needs for a passport, and

- 37,000 non-urgent passports, which were issued to adults whose passports had expired.

- 40,000 citizens separately were supplied with requested information via the Passport Service’s online Webchat service during this time.

At the end of the period of level 5 restrictions, notwithstanding the excellent efforts of the Passport Service staff, a backlog of eighty nine thousand (89,000) passport applications were outstanding. A number of Deputies (12) have asked questions as to how the backlog is distributed by county and I have arranged for that data to be shared with them by hard copy.

In the context of the Government’s “COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021”, I decided that scaling up of our services was necessary and categorised the Passport Service as an essential service within that framework. I advised Government of my decision on 29 April. I am confident that Deputies will agree with this approach given the essential nature of the service provided, the level of applications made already this year and already building, and the predictable demand on the service were travel restrictions to be eased over the coming period.

Since the scaling up of the Passport Service’s operation began, one week ago on 4 May 2020, I can advise Deputies of the following:

- More than 12,200 passports have been issued, with approximately 4000 more are at the final stages of processing;

- We have also received approximately 17,700 new applications.

All applications are dealt with based on date of receipt and application type rather than by geographical location.

I fully appreciate that Deputies are concerned about the time frame for scaling up to normal levels of service, and wish for more detail about our approach to meeting this challenge within the framework of Government guidelines.

Let me be clear, the priorities in this phase of scaling up of operations are:

-To process all of the 89,000 passport applications on hand at the end of April by the end of June 2021;

-Second, to maintain our urgent passport service arrangements;

-Thirdly, to provide customer information via Webchat; and

- Fourthly, to ensure we have the capacity for high levels of anticipated demand for passport applications, were current travel restrictions to ease.

And all of these priorities sit within the essential and overarching need to ensure that, as we scale up attendance and operations, our workplaces are safe so that our staff can work safely on site. The Passport Service will remain in full compliance with the Work Safely Protocol which sets out obligations for employers and workers to put Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The Passport Service has always seen a year on year increase in the number of passports applied for, peaking in 2019 when approximately 935,000 passports were issued. Demand declined in 2020 to 445,000, and this is directly attributable to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions.

Similar reduced demand has also been seen so far this year. The consequence of the reduced number of passports issued in 2020, and to date in 2021, will mean there is pent up demand. For example, the percentage of expired passport which were not renewed in 2020 stood at 53% whereas in 2019 this was a far lower number at 23%

I want to underline to the House that the phased scaling up of all our services is the most prudent and quickest way to get the Passport Service fully back to normal operational levels.

I would therefore ask for your support in managing public expectations - we cannot simply return to normal level of operations overnight.

Of course, in the event that any applicant has urgent or emergency reasons for requiring a passport, please advise them to contact the Passport Service’s Customer Service Hub, by WebChat, to make the Passport Service aware of their emergency needs.

We are encouraging Online applications for non-urgent renewals as it provides the greatest efficiencies to our citizens when applying for their passports, and also for the Passport Service in delivering this service, including on health and safety grounds.

Question No. 58 answered orally.
Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 57.
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