Tuesday, 2 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Foreign Birth Registration
The Department paused the processing of foreign birth registration applications last year when level 5 restrictions under the national framework for living with Covid-19 were in place. The Minister indicated last year that applications were being held securely and would be processed when normal services resumed at level 3 of the framework. It is now 2021. Restaurants, pubs and restaurants are open but foreign birth registrations remain paused and new and existing applicants have no indication when theirs will be processed. At a conservative estimate, the current backlog of applications stands at 32,000. Even before the pandemic, the waiting period for a foreign birth registration was up to two years. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in two periods in 2020 when processing of foreign birth registration was paused in order to assist other essential work, such as providing consular assistance to Irish citizens overseas. This resulted in the processing of foreign birth registration applications being suspended for 26 weeks. Given the importance of foreign birth registration to people's lives, surely other staff could or should have been deployed in this role and the processing of applications should have continued, especially when the Department was aware of the high volume of applications due to Brexit. I fully understand that the foreign birth registration process is complex and complicated, involving documents over several generations and multiple jurisdictions but applicants invest considerable time in gathering, authenticating and submitting legal documents and then are left in legal limbo due to the service being suspended.
The Minister stated in the Dáil earlier this year that additional resources would be introduced in order to facilitate the processing of applications. How many new staff are working in the foreign birth registration office and what progress has been made in expediting the significant backlog?Many citizens have contacted my office about foreign birth registrations. Some need to get Irish passports to travel throughout Europe to work and visit sick family members. Others cannot leave the country with their newborn children as their own situation has not been legalised. I know of retirees whose parents and grandparents were Irish and now wish to spend the remainder of their lives in their home country - people for whom time is of the essence. I am aware of children stuck in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria who are prevented from travelling to Ireland until the applications of foreign birth registration are processed and they can apply for an Irish passport.
The closure of the service has seriously impacted family reunification and causes trauma to many families. This is not just a matter of inconvenience, it is a matter of citizens' rights and they are being denied access to the service to which they are legally entitled. It is only a matter of time before a legal challenge is mounted. The year 2021 is drawing to a close and the service is still paused. I hope the Minister of State will have some good news for the thousands of people whose lives are regrettably paused as a consequence. I look forward to his reply.