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Passport Services

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 2 June 2022

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Ceisteanna (234)

Chris Andrews

Ceist:

234. Deputy Chris Andrews asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts that have been made to improve the Oireachtas Passport Helpline; the position of his Department on the opening of a dedicated Passport Office either in Belfast or Dundalk. [28558/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

In October 2021, the Passport Service established a temporary phone line to respond to Oireachtas Members' queries on urgent passport cases.

I am aware that many Deputies are receiving a large number of passport queries from constituents due to the continued high demand for passports. Since last week, the number of staff on the Oireachtas Urgent Query Service team has increased from seven to eleven full time staff. As of last week, up to 20 queries per week from each Oireachtas Member can be facilitated by this team.

Staff on the Oireachtas Line continue to work productively under increasing pressure. They are dealing with record numbers of calls and queries every week and have handled over 12,200 queries from Members since the beginning of this year.

In each case raised by an Oireachtas Member, the Passport Service reviews the application in question. However, applications can only be expedited in cases of genuine emergency such as a need for urgent medical treatment overseas or the death of a family member abroad. Such applications are expedited through the Travel Emergency service.

Non-urgent cases should continue to be dealt with through the existing phone lines and web chat facilities. Passport applications that are being processed in line with their turnaround times cannot be expedited. Where the estimated issue-by date has been exceeded this will result in a query being raised internally in the Passport Service. The Passport Service will work to issue a passport or respond to a request for further information to the customer within two working days.

While Deputies often hear of the most complex and pressing cases, the overwhelming majority of passport applicants have their passport processed without any recourse to their local TD. 

The Passport Service is already out-performing any previous year, despite the challenges that it has encountered over the past two years. In 2019, which was the busiest year for passports pre-Covid, the Passport Service had issued 470,000 passports by the end of May. In the same time period this year, over 540,000 passports have been issued. In 2021, 634,000 passports were issued in the whole year. In five months the Passport Service has issued over 80% of the total number of passports that were issued in the whole of last year.

Passport applicants can track the status of their passport application online via the Passport Tracker which is available on my Department's website - www.dfa.ie/passporttracking/. The information on the tracker has recently been upgraded, and is an excellent guide as to where an application is in the system.

The Passport Service is a unified service composed of three constituent offices located in Lower Mount Street and Balbriggan in Dublin and South Mall in Cork, respectively. Passport applications from all citizens - whether at home or abroad - are distributed for processing across the three Passport Offices, on the basis of the type of application rather than the place of residence of the applicant.

Over 90% of all passport applications, including first time applications, are now being made through Passport Online and Passport Online is available to 97% of all applicants across the world. The Passport Service is committed to continuing to offer a range of application channels, including an offline service for citizens who are not eligible or do not wish to use the Passport Online service.

Passport Online is the priority channel for applications as there are many efficiencies built into the system for both the applicant and the Passport Service. The Passport Online service offers Irish citizens the ability to apply online for their passport 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a user-friendly, efficient service that consistently offers processing times up to 4 times faster than paper-based passport renewal applications.

The paper-based, mail-in "Post Passport" service is available to citizens at almost 1,000 An Post post offices. A paper-based, mail-in service is also available at over 70 post office locations in Northern Ireland. The Passport Service continues to see a steady, but increasing demand for passports from citizens in Northern Ireland. With the availability of both Passport Online and the postal application channel, very few applicants are required to travel a significant distance in order to apply for their passport.

In the relatively small number of cases where citizens need to travel urgently and do not have a valid passport, the Passport Offices in Dublin and Cork offer an Urgent Appointment service for passport renewal with a 1 or 4-day turnaround. The Passport Service offices in Dublin and Cork have processed over 5,000 Urgent Appointments to date in 2022. These Urgent Appointment applications represents just 0.9% of the total 540,000 applications received by the Passport Service since January of this year.

I am satisfied overall that the range of service options available meets the current needs of passport applicants and that recent service improvements allow the Passport Service to provide this essential citizen service in an efficient and effective manner. While there are no plans to open additional passport offices, the Passport Service will continue to consider ways in which to enhance customer experience for citizens.

I would again encourage all those applying for passports to apply online well in advance of any planned travel.  The current processing times for passport applications are:

- 10 working days for Simple Adult online renewals

- 15 working days for Complex or child online renewals

- 30 working days for First Time Applications on Passport Online (applications received from 19 April)

- 8 weeks for An Post’s mail-in “Post Passport" service.

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