Thursday, 10 September 2020

Ceisteanna (44)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

44. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the extent to which applications for citizenship and stamp 4 are up to date; if particular steps have been taken or are in hand to deal with backlogs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22808/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Immigration Services Delivery (ISD) Division of my Department is currently processing approximately 15,000 applications for the renewal of immigration registration.

Significant demand accumulated during the four months that the Registration Office was closed due to Covid-19. To assist in addressing this demand, a new online system for the renewal of Registrations in the Dublin area was developed and launched on 20 July, enabling applicants to safely engage with the Registration Office without the need to attend in person at Burgh Quay. However

Since the launch of the new online renewal system, my Department has received over 22,000 applications from people who would otherwise have had to attend the Registration Office in person. The volume of applications, together with the reduced capacity of the Registration Office due to social distancing requirements, has resulted in longer than anticipated processing times. However, my officials have completed approximately 7,000 cases already.

I, along with the officials in my Department recognise the difficulties that delays may cause for applicants and are committed to providing additional resources to the Registration Office to increase its capacity to handle current demand.

It should be noted that there are currently no backlogs associated with first time Stamp 4 registrations which are carried out in person.

Regarding Citizenship applications, the Deputy may be aware of a challenge taken in the High Court last year by an applicant who was refused a certificate of naturalisation due to his absences from the State during the last year continuous prior to the date of his application. The outcome of this ruling – which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal – resulted in significant delays to the processing of naturalisation applications last year.

In addition, the restrictions attendant to the current COVID-19 pandemic have regrettably resulted in significant challenges to the delivery of normal services. Currently there are approximately 21,000 applications on hand, at various stages within the system, ranging from those just received by the Division to those where a decision has been made but it is not possible to issue an invitation to a ceremony. All applicants 18 years and older must attend at a citizenship ceremony in order to make a declaration of fealty to the State, administered by a Presiding Officer, normally a retired member of the Judiciary.

As a result of these restrictions, the Citizenship Division of Immigration Service Delivery is experiencing significant disruption in delivering its core functions. Working within these restrictions, public safety and the wellbeing of staff are of course both urgent priorities.

The pilot virtual Citizenship Ceremony that took place on 10 July 2020, involved 21 applicants. As I indicated at that time, a review was underway and consideration of that review is now in its final stages.

As I have said previously, a critical consideration is the protection of the welfare and safety of the participants and the general public. It is also essential that any arrangements put in place ensure that the event is held with an appropriate degree of dignity and solemnity, as befits an event of such importance in the lives of our newest citizens. At this same time, it is not desirable for extended delays to become a feature of the system, while having regard to the practical aspects of the citizenship process. As a consequence, a critical aspect of the review concerns the ability to provide a scalable solution. The ceremony model will need to be able to meet the requirements of applicants and my Department for an as yet indeterminate period of time. My intention is to make a decision as to how to proceed shortly.

It remains my intention that large scale ceremonies will recommence once circumstances allow.