I propose to take Questions Nos. 413, 416, 421, 424, 430, 431, 432, 438, 439, 452, 460 and 470 together.
My Department is responsible for citizenship by descent through the Foreign Births Register under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (“the 1956 Act”), as amended. We take our legal responsibility in relation to Foreign Birth Registration very seriously and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the processing time for these applications stood at 18 months. This is due to the complex nature of Foreign Birth Registration applications and the very high volume of applications we received due to Brexit. At present, there are just over 31,000 applications in the Foreign Births Registration (FBR) system awaiting processing.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic FBR application processing was paused to give priority to the provision of other priority services. Notably, we reassigned staff to the HSE for essential contact tracing; to the Department of Social Protection for the processing of essential PUP payments, and to support the Department of Health with quarantine issues.
These emergency pandemic measures did not impact the provision of passports for essential reasons and we also continued to provide an emergency service for Foreign Birth Registration in cases of exceptional urgency, or where an applicant required the return of documents. As with many other areas of public service provision, a backlog of applications has inevitably grown due to the COVID 19 disruptions of our normal processes.
The Passport Service is very concerned about this backlog situation and are actively planning to resume processing FBR applications as soon as possible. We will be making a public announcement on specific dates in the coming weeks. My Department is committed to allocating further resources to this service to assist with the high volume of applications when regular processing resumes with a focus on reducing turnaround times to pre COVID-19 levels by the end of 2021. In the medium term, changes to the FBR process to increase efficiencies and improve the customer experience will be delivered under the next phase of my Department's Passport Reform Programme.
In cases of exceptional urgency applicants may continue to contact the Passport Service directly using email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.