I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to put some facts on the table, as this is an issue for many Deputies who have contacted my office.
Between 1 January and 22 March, the Passport Service received more than 222,000 applications, an increase of 7% on the same period last year, which itself saw an increase on the previous year. The service is currently processing more than 70,000 passport applications. These are going through the normal checking, processing and security stages. There is a significant security element involved.
The turnaround timeframe for a passport application will depend in the first instance on the channel through which the application is submitted. The target turnaround time for applications made via the online passport application service is ten working days plus postage time. Approximately half of online applications are currently being processed within five working days, which is well ahead of target. The award winning online service accommodates adult renewals and passport card applications and it is planned to extend this service to children and all other categories of renewals by the end of this year. Whether residing in Ireland or overseas, I urge applicants wishing to renew their passports to avail of the online passport application service where possible, as it allows us to make decisions more quickly.
The average turnaround time for renewal applications submitted through passport express, which is the postal service, is currently 14 working days, one day ahead of the target turnaround time of 15 working days. Other types of application submitted through passport express, such as first-time applications and applications to replace lost, stolen or damaged passports, take longer due to additional security checks.
In recent weeks, we have had higher than average turnaround times for some categories of application owing to high application volumes and disruption caused by adverse weather conditions and the subsequent closure of the Dublin and Cork passport offices for two days. However, the turnaround times have considerably reduced and in many cases are now shorter than the published target times.
My Department continues to monitor the level of passport demand closely to ensure that all resources are effectively deployed. Additional measures taken by the Passport Service this year include the recruitment of additional staff and the use of targeted overtime.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
I am pleased to say that over 20 permanent staff have recently joined the Passport Service's existing 322 full-time equivalent staff. Furthermore, the Passport Service has received sanction this year for 220 temporary clerical officers to be appointed to the passport offices in Dublin and Cork. The majority of these officers are already in place. Targeted overtime for the Passport Service was also sanctioned to increase processing capacity.
In managing increasing application volumes, my Department's approach has not been merely to recruit or assign additional staff, but to continue to implement service improvements in order to provide an exceptional service and minimise the impact high application volumes have on turnaround times. The passport reform programme is delivering major upgrades to the passport service technology platforms and business processes as well as significant customer service improvements. The award winning online passport application service will continue to make a major contribution to the effective management of application volumes by allowing existing resources to be more effectively deployed within the Passport Service.