I propose to take Questions Nos. 376 and 385 together.
My Department is responsible for citizenship by descent through the Foreign Births Register under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended.
People may apply for Irish citizenship through Foreign Birth Registration if one of their grandparents was born in Ireland or if one of their parents was an Irish citizen at the time of their birth, even if their parent was not born in Ireland. Once a person is entered onto the Foreign Births Register, they are an Irish citizen and are entitled to apply for an Irish passport.
In order to protect the integrity of the citizenship process, Foreign Birth Registration applications require very careful analysis in order to validate both the identity of the applicant and their entitlement to Irish citizenship. Accordingly, such applications undergo rigorous checking by experienced staff at the Passport Service.
Demand for Foreign Birth Registration services reached unprecedented levels following the Brexit referendum in 2016, resulting in a peak of 32,000 online applications received in 2019. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the processing time for Foreign Birth Registration applications stood at 18 months. This processing time is due to the unprecedented peak in applications as a result of Brexit and the aforementioned rigorous validation which citizenship applications undergo.
Operations at the Passport Service were severely disrupted by public health restrictions brought about by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. During this period, it was necessary to pause Foreign Birth Registration processing in order to focus also on the provision of urgent passport services. When Passport services were scaled up in May 2021 to more normal operational levels, in line with the phased easing of restrictions, Foreign Birth Registration staff were redeployed to assist with the delivery of our expanded essential passport services operation. That redeployment has had to remain in place to date due to the continuing strong demand for Passport services. Over 500,000 passports have been issued so far this year.
The Foreign Birth Registration Service continues to consider urgent requests to expedite an application on a case by case basis, in cases such as expectant parents, or stateless persons. Over 5,000 emergency Foreign Birth Registration applications have been processed in 2021. Expectant parents and other emergency applicants should make contact with the Passport Service Customer Service Hub to advise of their circumstances, and can do so by telephone or webchat on the Department’s website (www.dfa.ie).
The Passport Service is actively preparing to resume processing Foreign Birth Registration applications as soon as possible and an announcement of the resumption date can be expected shortly. My Department is fully committed to allocating the necessary resources to assist with the high volume of applications, with a focus on reducing turnaround times.
In the context of the National Development Plan, the Government is making a major investment in the future of the Passport Service. Over the next couple of years, the Department will replace the core technology underpinning the service, which will deliver efficiencies to the Foreign Birth Registration and passport services. Budget 2022 also included an investment of an additional €10m for the Passport Service in response to the increasing demand for passports and Foreign Birth Registration.