Thursday, 4 October 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Passport Applications Data
6. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the turnaround times for passport express renewals, first-time applications and online renewal applications, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40308/18]
I thank Deputy Durkan for this question. The turnaround timeframe for a passport application will depend in the first instance on the channel through which the application was submitted. The passport service provides a range of channels to Irish citizens who wish to apply for passports, including the online passport application service, the passport express system through the post office and the in-person counter application facilities in Dublin and Cork.
The cheapest and easiest way for an adult to renew a passport is to apply using the online passport application service. More than 50% of applications submitted through this service are being processed in fewer than four working days, with the remainder being processed in an average of seven working days. The online passport application service is a fast, secure and convenient way for citizens to renew their passports. It can be availed of 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere in the world. At present, the online passport application service accommodates adult passport renewal applications and passport card applications. The passport service is in the process of rolling out a similar service for the renewal of children’s passports by the end of the year.
The average turnaround time for passport applications submitted through passport express is currently ahead of target. Renewal applications are being processed in an average of ten working days. First-time applications are being processed in an average of 15 working days. This compares with the target turnaround times of 15 working days and 20 working days, respectively. We should not get lulled into a false sense of security on passports. This is not the time of year when the greatest pressure comes on the system due to increased numbers of applications. That tends to happen in the first and second quarters of the year. We need to make sure we have systems in place to avoid some of the delays and frustrations we experienced in the earlier part of the year.
I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. To what extent have passport cards become popular and useful for travellers? Do such cards achieve the same purpose as conventional passports? Have they been recognised internationally to the same extent?
They are becoming increasingly popular as people learn about them. It is more convenient for many people who travel frequently to carry passport cards, which are like credit cards, in their wallets. They are recognised across the EU. I do not have an exact figure for how many applications for passport cards have been received. The passport card is essentially an additional document to the passport itself. A person who gets a passport card should still get a passport.
One can use the passport card as a travel document for some international travel as an alternative to the physical passport, which is obviously bigger. The card is a welcome addition which a lot of people use, particularly those who travel a lot.
Does the Tánaiste have data on the extent to which the number of passport applications has increased, decreased or levelled off over the last 12 months, bearing in mind that applications always increase in the summer period? Are sufficient resources available to the Passport Office? I accept that there has been a considerable improvement in the turnaround times. Is it possible to ensure that this continues and that adequate resources remain available?
I want to make a quick comment. It is important to give credit where credit is due. In this instance, it is proper to put on the record of the House the fact that the Passport Office has modernised significantly and has really stepped up to the plate in terms of being available through online platforms in particular. I thank the people in the Passport Office with whom I have had dealings. All Deputies were inundated with requests from people who were under pressure for passports but the staff in the office delivered. Often the applicants were at fault, having left it too late to apply but the Passport Office stepped up to the plate and that needs to be acknowledged.
I thank the Deputy for that. The Passport Office was put under huge pressure this year. My political office became a passport office for a large part of the year, with staff trying to get emergency passports through quickly. The system had to deal with that, which was not easy. Many other Deputies have also been pushing hard to get individual cases across the line and the Passport Office staff have shown remarkable patience and professionalism. We need to make sure that the system is not under that kind of pressure next year and that we take on a sufficient number of temporary clerical officers. We took on 216 this year for the peak season which is between February and August. Once we get the online system working for children, the process will be a lot faster. An awful lot of family passport applications got caught up in the manual system because it is not yet possible to apply for an updated child's passport online.
The other point to make is that the name of the passport postal service, Passport Express, suggests to many that it is the fastest way to get a new passport but that is not the case. The fastest way to get a passport is through the online application process. People should be applying online to avail of the really quick turnaround time. Our job will be an awful lot easier if we continue to see an increase in the number of online applications. It is a much slicker system with much faster delivery. The more people that apply online, the better.