I propose to take Questions Nos. 350, 356 and 357 together.
The Passport Service maintained operations throughout the COVID-19 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 our staff were 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. To assist with the wider State response to COVID-19, Passport Service personnel were also redeployed, at the request of different Departments, into other, essential public service roles, such as contact tracing for the HSE, assisting the Department of Social Protection to facilitate the processing of COVID-19 related benefits, providing consular assistance to Irish citizens overseas and assisting the Public Appointments Service.
The Passport Service began scaling up to more normal operational levels on 4 May 2021, in line with the phased easing of restrictions set out in “COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 – The Plan Ahead” while continuing to operate the emergency service for priority cases for which customers are encouraged to contact our Customer Service Hub if they require assistance.
The Passport Service has received nearly 500,000 applications in 2021 to date, with approximately 110,000 under process. These applications comprise of 43,000 valid applications which are with the Passport Service and 67,000 incomplete applications that require action by the applicant.
The current turnaround times are
- 10 working days for Simple Adult renewals,
- 15 working days for Complex renewals,;
- 40 working days for First Time applications on Passport Online and
- 8 weeks for Passport Express .
These turnaround times for Passport Online applications begins when all required supporting documentation is received by the Passport Service. For reasons of integrity, the Passport Service is not in a position to process applications that are incomplete as these are not valid applications. Such applications will inevitably encounter longer processing times.
First time applications for adults and children are complex applications involving measures to assure the true identity of the applicant, their entitlement to Irish citizenship and, in the case of children, that all guardians have consented to the issuing of the passport. Particular complexity relates to the process of application from children born in Ireland after 2004 due to the need to verify entitlement for Irish citizenship.
The Passport Service continually examines how to improve processing times, including examining the processes around the verification and processing of the supporting documentation for first time applicants, and any delays that have been experienced by our customers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the high demand seen in recent months as international travel resumed. However, the Passport Service has a great deal of experience in dealing with peaks in demand is a strong basis for confidence, taking into account measures to ensure a safe workplace, that we will return to more normal turnaround times for the processing of first time applications soon.
In line with our continued scaling up of services My Department are actively planning for the opening of our Public Offices for the processing of urgent applications for those renewing their passport. We will be making a public announcement on specific dates in the coming weeks.
The Passport Service will continue to review its processes in order to identify further efficiencies that can be made to improve the efficiency of our services and improve customer experience while continuing to protect the integrity of the Irish Passport.