Between Jan 1 and April 30 this year, the Passport Service received 358,572 passport applications. This represents a 9% increase on the same period last year.
The increase in demand is driven by a number of factors including a general increase in the number of Irish residents travelling abroad, a growing population, as well as a significant rise in passport applications from Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
My Department continues to closely monitor the level of passport demand to ensure that all resources are effectively deployed. It is peak season for passport demand and the Passport Service is doing everything possible to reduce processing times for all categories of application, and in particular, those categories that are currently over target turnaround times. In anticipation of increasing application volumes and peak season demands, a number of measures have been taken by the Passport Service to enhance processing capacity. These measures include the recruitment of additional staff and the use of targeted overtime.
The Passport Service received sanction this year for 220 Temporary Clerical Officers (TCOs) for appointment to the Passport Offices in Dublin and Cork. All TCOs in this intake have been fully trained and placed since March. These TCOs are working together with permanent staff to process passport applications and to deal with the high number of enquiries being made through the Passport Service’s various customer service channels.
The number of Full Time Equivalent staff permanently employed by my Department and assigned to the Passport Service stood at 322 at the beginning of the year. This compares to 310 Full Time Equivalent staff assigned to the Passport Service at the same point last year. In addition, over 20 additional permanent staff have been assigned to the Passport Service in 2018.
The continuous implementation of service improvements has been central to my Department’s response to increasing application volumes. 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, which was launched last year, will continue to make a major contribution to the effective management of high application volumes by allowing existing resources to be more effectively deployed within the Passport Service. At present, the online service accommodates adult renewals and passport card applications. It is planned to further expand the online passport application service to other renewal categories by the end of 2018.
With regard to the anticipated increases in passport applications following the UK Referendum on EU membership in June 2016, the Department commissioned research to try and better understand the potential demand for passports from Irish citizens resident in Great Britain who have not yet applied for a passport. Interim reports have been made available and this study will continue to assist the Passport Service in formulating plans on resource requirements for the future.