Tuesday, 18 May 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.
Official documents that are produced by the authorities of one country, and which are intended to be submitted to the authorities of another, would ordinarily need to be certified as authentic by the Government of the originating country in order to be accepted abroad, and further inquiries then taking place after authenticity in the receiving country. This has been simplified in a number of ways. For example, by the Hague Convention abolishing the requirement of legalisation for foreign public documents of 1961 or the Apostille Convention, which put procedures in place for an apostille stamp to be affixed to documents. That means in instances where both countries are party to that convention, the second country will accept the document as being authentic without any further inquiries being made. This is an international certification of sorts that is comparable with notarisation in domestic law. A notary certifies that a document is authentic or that the signatories on it are authentic, and this is accepted by anyone receiving it. The apostille operates the same principle but on an international level. Matters were simplified further in 2019 by the EU regulation on public documents. That has meant certain public documents that are produced by the authority of a member state and being presented to another member state will no longer require any legalisation or an apostille.
Both Irish citizens and companies still require this for some public documents for use within the EU as well as a range of documents used outside the EU. Authentication is most often required for foreign adoptions where significant amounts of documentation are required to be sent abroad but also for immigration and citizenship matters, for certain business transactions, share sales and so on. Covid-19 has meant that instead of being processed very quickly by the Department of Foreign Affairs, documents are now taking a month or more to be processed. We are talking here about the consularisation of documents by the authentication and apostille public offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs. These offices in Dublin and Cork have been closed to the public since last December and they have accepted documents by post only. This has led, as I have said, to delays of four weeks or more in the processing of documents. Ordinarily, the public offices process documents on the same day that they are submitted. The lawyers in the House will be painfully familiar with this area.These documents are usually processed by law clerks in solicitors' offices, who are diligent and competent people who know their stuff. During the summer holidays, however, it has often been delegated to apprentice solicitors, many of whom will have spent quite a few summer afternoons queuing in the Department of Foreign Affairs' public office waiting for documents to be authenticated. I hope by raising this matter, those who may be aware of this are not caused an outbreak of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
It is a matter which affects businesses and, therefore, affects people. My question to the Minister of State, therefore, is why this delay is happening. How can a month-long backlog have built up? How can a same-day turnaround in person turn into a four-week turnaround when this is being operated by post? Have some of the staff operating the back office of the consularisation section been redeployed during Covid-19? If not, surely the process should not take longer than a few days when postage is taken into account. It is a simple question for the Minister of State. I also ask when the public office will reopen.