Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (724)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

724. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Justice the number of applications for citizenship received in each of the past three years; the number of successful applicants in each of these years; the length of time the longest applicant is waiting; if she will address the current delays; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26977/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation under the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements, not only within the State but also at European Union as well as international level. It is therefore important that appropriate procedures are in place to ensure that the integrity of the regime for granting Irish citizenship through the naturalisation process is held in high regard both at home and internationally. Our procedures are continually evolving including through service improvements due to the introduction of new technology and updated work practices.  

In general, the target is that it should take around 6 months for a standard application to be processed from the date it is received to the date a decision is made. However, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process.  In some instances, completing the necessary checks, including security checks can take a considerable period of time with the result in some applications taking longer than the average timescale. Processing timescales can be impacted by incomplete applications having to be returned; further documentation being required from the applicant; where the payment of the required certificate fee is awaited; or if the applicant has not been engaging with the Immigration Service of my Department. In some instances, the input of several government agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction is needed and the request and receipt of information from these sources can result in delays in processing some applications. Issues can also arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which is required to be considered before a final decision is taken.  

Furthermore, 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.  

The number of applications for citizenship received and certificates of naturalisation issued in each of the past three years is set out in the table below.  

Applications Received 

Certificates Issued 

2017 -- 11,777 

8,192 

2018 -- 12,867 

8,221 

2019 -- 12,275 

5,792 

Age 

No. of Applications On Hand 

Less than 1 Year 

8,555 

12 to less than 18 months 

4,412 

18 to less than 24 months 

2,888 

24 months + 

4,936 

Of the applications over 24 months old well over 80% of these were received in the preceding 24 months.  Older cases are complex in nature, maybe subject to judicial review and/or continue to be active for the range of reasons outlined above. 

The figures for cases on hands also include a cohort of cases where a decision has been made and the applicant notified of same, but where the applicant has yet to swear their oath of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State, as required under the Act, and be granted their certificate of naturalisation at a citizenship ceremony arranged for the purpose.    

 The COVID-19 restrictions have also resulted in further significant challenges to the delivery of normal services including the disruption of the citizenship ceremonies.

The pilot online Citizenship ceremony that took place in early July gave rise to considerable learnings. A review of the pilot is in the final stages. A critical aspect of the review concerns the ability to provide a scalable solution, which satisfies the legislative requirements as laid down under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 as amended. Any new model will need to be able to meet the requirements of applicants and my Department for an as yet indeterminate period of time.  I expect to be in a position to bring clarity to the situation shortly.

An overall review of citizenship application processing has been completed by my Department to ensure that the caseload on hand is dealt with as quickly as possible taking into account COVID and other restrictions.