Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla (Atógáil) - Topical Issue Debate (Resumed)

Passport Services

5:25 pm

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I wish to raise the issue of the passport service because of the sheer volume of queries my office has received from people on a daily basis who are anxious to have their passports returned to them in advance of their travel dates.

I acknowledge the tremendous work the staff have been doing. When I have spoken with them, they have been both professional and courteous on every occasion. They seem, however, to be snowed under with the sheer volume of passport applications they are receiving.

Citizens suffered two years of the Covid-19 pandemic because of the necessary but challenging restrictions that were imposed to suppress the spread of the virus. People were unable to travel abroad for two years. One does not need to be a weather person to know which way the wind is blowing and one certainly did not have to be an expert in aviation trends to anticipate that there would be a large number of people seeking to travel after a two-year moratorium.

Having spent 19 years myself in the travel industry, it was obvious that the industry would recover quickly and that people would travel for holidays, business, and, most important, to meet family members who are abroad. Why were we not prepared for this when we knew that was going to happen? Why were additional staff not sought during the pandemic? Not knowing whether they are going to receive their passport two days before their flight happens places a tremendous burden of stress on parents who are looking forward to for what is for many of them is their first family holiday abroad.

My office dealt with a lady earlier this summer who faced a challenging set of circumstances. A family member had died suddenly in the UK and she wanted to attend the funeral. As the Minister of State may know, such funerals do not happen quickly in the UK and, therefore, she had the time to get over there.

She applied for a passport renewal, albeit with a name change following a divorce, and was told that by the office that it would not be able to escalate the passport application as she had no flight booked. She could not book a flight as she was unsure whether she would get the passport or that it would be returned to in time. The advice she was offered was either to drive from Limerick to London and back again, which in fairness is crazy, or to travel with an airline provider whose prices were four times the price of the provider that had earlier demanded the production of a passport. Unfortunately, some airline providers demand the production of a passport to travel to England whereas others do not. Needless to say, she missed that flight.

Another family of five I spoke to submitted their application at the end of April with a flight date of 15 July. It was a first-time application for a child born in November 2019. The family were faced with the prospect of having to rebook flights or cancelling their plans. Thankfully, their flight is the late flight tomorrow and their passport was dispatched today. These types of turnaround times, however, are a little too close for comfort when people have spent money on flights and accommodation abroad.

Staffing seems to be a key issue and some gaps have been filled by those who had worked previously in Covid-19 track and trace roles but this seems to be too little and far too late. I ask that the Minister of State in his response states what extra steps the Department is taking to ensure that all citizens are issued with passports in advance and, ideally, further in advance of their travel dates and not so close to those dates as is the case at present. I appreciate that there are staff retention challenges but it must be asked why we have these. Why have one third of those persons who are offered temporary clerical roles declined the offer? What is the reason for that? Is it conditions or pay and why is there such a high attrition rate in that section?

Another issue of concern in respect of the applications for passports is the Passport Office website. Given there is such a backlog of passport applications and such a delay in the processing of passports, it would be expected that the home page of the office's website would display warnings about those delays but it does not. When looking at the home page, one would think that there was nothing going wrong or strange and that there were no problems. There is no easily visible warning about expected delays. Perhaps such a warning should be put on the website when people are accessing it. It might then deter them from submitting applications if the realistic times for processing the applications were readily visible. I look forward to the Minister of State's response on this issue, please.


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