Tuesday, 2 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Foreign Birth Registration
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Seanadóir Ó Creachmhaoil. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is in Israel today and has asked me to speak on his behalf. The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for citizenship by descent through the foreign birth register under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004. As the Senator will be aware, people may apply for Irish citizenship through foreign birth registration if one of their grandparents was born in Ireland or one of their parents was an Irish citizen at the time of their birth, even if the parent was not born in Ireland. Once a person is entered on the foreign birth register, he or she is an Irish citizen and as the Senator has said, entitled to apply for an Irish passport. To protect the integrity of this process, foreign birth registrations require careful processing to validate the identity of the applicant and the entitlement to citizenship. The applications undergo rigorous and detailed checking by experienced staff at the passport service.
Demand for foreign birth registration reached unprecedented levels following the Brexit referendum in the UK. Prior to that, we had approximately 5,000 to 6,000 applications for foreign birth registrations every year. After the referendum, we had a peak in 2019, of 32,000 online applications received. Prior to the pandemic, the processing time stood at 18 months, due to the huge increase post-Brexit. Of course, that peak coincided with Covid-19. Operations at the Passport Office were severely disrupted. During this period, it was necessary to pause the foreign birth registration process to focus on urgent passport services.
When passport services were scaled up in May 2021 to more normal operational levels, foreign birth registration staff were redeployed to help with the delivery of essential passport services and have continued to do so in light of continuing strong demand for passport services. They are not the only people in the Department redeployed to what we might call normal passport services. A huge number of staff have been redeployed from various quarters of the Department to deal with that.
The foreign birth registration service continues to consider urgent requests to expedite applications on a case-by-case basis, such as expectant parents or stateless persons. A number of them are processed in Afghanistan, but if there are any particular cases, the Senator can let me know. Some 5,000 emergency cases have been processed in 2021. Expectant parents and other emergency applicants should make contact with the passport service customer service hub to advise of the circumstances.
The passport service is actively preparing to resume processing foreign birth registration applications as soon as possible. I can assure the Cathaoirleach, the Department is fully committed to allocating the necessary resources to this service to help with the high volume of applications with a focus on reducing that backlog the Senator has rightly described. In the medium term, changes to the foreign birth registration process to increase efficiencies and improve the customer experience will be delivered under the next phase of the Department's ongoing passport reform and under which huge work is ongoing to generally reform the process and make it much more efficient.
This is not directly related to what the Senator spoke about, but online renewal of passports is taking place quickly.There is certainly a major backlog in paper applications so I encourage people to apply online for passports insofar as they can. I outlined earlier the situation regarding foreign birth registration.