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Passport Services

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Questions (356)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

356. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the passport office will return to normal processing times following the decision not to deem the passport office as an essential service and to suspend the production of passports during the lockdown (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61573/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Passport Service operations have been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as were many Government services. 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. Passport Service staff assisted citizens who required passports for a range of emergency and urgent personal, business or legal reasons, or who had compelling humanitarian needs to travel. As a result of well-implemented safety protocols, 67,000 passports were issued between January and May of this year.

In the context of the Government’s “COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021”, I recognised that scaling up of our services was necessary and so categorised the Passport Service as an essential service within that framework. I advised Government of my decision on 29 April 2021. Passport Service operations began scaling up on 4 May 2021.

The Passport Service has issued almost 600,000 passports to date in 2021 and 45% of simple adult renewals issue within one business day.

I am aware that many applicants wish to have their passport application processed in time for travel over the Christmas season. I wish to assure the Deputy that the Passport Service is attaching particular priority to processing passport applications that are fully in order and complete and have an expected issue date before the Christmas holidays.

The current passport processing times are:

- 10 working days for Simple Adult online renewals

- 15 working days for Complex or child online renewals

- 40 working days for First Time Applications on Passport Online

- 8 weeks for An Post’s mail-in “Passport Express” service

The aforementioned passport processing times are based on current average application turnaround times and relate to passport applications submitted to the Passport Service with required supporting documentation. When passport applicants do not provided all of the requisite documentation to the Passport Service, it takes much longer to process the application and issue a passport. Passport Service figures show that a high proportion of applications are incomplete and the onus is on the applicant to submit the required documents to the Service. While the Passport Service makes every effort to contact applicants in such circumstances, their experience is that many applicants take weeks and sometimes months to send in the necessary documents.

The Passport Service is currently experiencing a high demand for first time passports. These first time applications are necessarily complex to process, since they are essentially applications for Irish citizenship. The Passport Service must validate the true identity of the applicant and take measures to confirm the applicant’s entitlement to Irish citizenship. It is the statutory responsibility of the Passport Service to protect the integrity of the Irish passport. Accordingly, a rigorous analysis process is in place to verify the identity and citizenship status of applicants.

In the case of first time passport applications for children, the consent of guardians must also be thoroughly validated. Due to the intensive analysis underpinning first time online passport applications processing time is 40 working days.

My Department has been actively working with the Public Appointments Service to recruit additional permanent and temporary staff. This recruitment drive is well underway and will double the number of staff in the Passport Service from June 2021 levels to a total of 920 staff by the end of January. I am confident that the additional staff currently being assigned to the Passport Service will help to reduce turnaround times and to respond to the current and anticipated high demand for passports in 2022

The Passport Service continually examines how to improve processing times and engagement with applicants. Preparation is currently underway for several system and service improvements that will enhance the customer service experience and will improve processing times. These improvements will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months.

In the context of the National Development Plan, my Department is making a major investment in the future of the Passport Service. Over the next couple of years, we will replace the core technology underpinning the service, which will deliver efficiencies and a more resilient passport system.

Budget 2022 also included an investment of an additional €10m in passport services in response to the increasing demand for passports both at home and abroad.

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