Friday, 26 March 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank Senator Ó Donnghaile for raising this issue.
First, let me start with the payments and fees, as outlined by the Senator. These are governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Regulations 2011. The fees are paid in two parts. The current application fee is €175, which is payable when an application for naturalisation is lodged. A certification fee is payable when a certificate of naturalisation is issued, that is, only when a certificate is issued and not prior to that or where a certificate is not issued. The standard certification fee is set at €950. A reduced fee of €200 applies in the case of an application made on behalf of a minor or in certain cases where the application is made by a widow, widower or surviving civil partner of an Irish citizen. In the case of recognised refugees and stateless persons, there is no certification fee. Consequently, there are instances where there is a significantly reduced fee.
The standard fees payable by an applicant are designed to reflect the effort that goes into the entire process and the costs involved in processing applications for a certificate of naturalisation, which gives benefit to everybody involved. It is quite a detailed process. This is not about making money or about the Department or anybody else. This is about making sure that the huge amount of work required to process is covered.There is no provision for the discretionary waiver or reduction of fees or for different fees to be applied, except in the situations I have just outlined and other exceptional circumstances. I mentioned earlier that all of these fees are payable under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. This matter is constantly reviewed by my Department. If we feel that fees can be reduced, while acknowledging the significant work involved in processing these applications, we will certainly do so. This area is, however, constantly monitored and, as I have said, no profit is being made. The fees are in place simply to make sure that the process can continue.
The Senator mentioned the new process that has come into play. This is quite significant because it means we will be able to address the sizeable backlog. This backlog is a very significant problem as it has affected some people for many years. To date, 3,615 communications have issued and 1,600 declarations have been returned. At the end of this month, a further 500 will be issued. I have received many messages, texts and emails from people who have received their certificates of naturalisation. Some 887 of these have already issued and more will issue in the coming weeks. On top of that, we aim to communicate with an additional 2,500 applicants in the system by the end of June. By the end of June, 6,000 people will have been communicated with and will be able to return their declarations before, it is to be hoped, receiving their letters of naturalisation within a few short weeks. We are moving through the existing backlog.
Obviously, I would like to return to person-to-person citizenship ceremonies. It is a wonderful way to welcome our new citizens, to acknowledge the significant role they play in our communities and to celebrate with them but, until we are in a position to hold such ceremonies, we will continue with the new process which is in place.
The Senator asked whether we could change the system itself. It is kept under consistent review. I take his points on board but the process is in place and the requirements are there for a reason. It is important that anybody who becomes an Irish citizen can adhere to that process and apply it to their own situation. We do, however, need to keep everything under constant review. I acknowledge and take on board the points the Senator has made, particularly in respect of those coming from the Six Counties.
The fee is there to cover the costs of the work being done. If one looks at what is happening at the moment, one will see that we are working through the backlog. We want to make sure that people who have been in the system for a long time receive their citizenship as soon as possible and that the process is not delayed in any way, shape or form for those coming down the line because of the current backlog. I am confident that we will be able to meet all of those targets and timelines we have set, particularly for this year.