Tuesday, 12 February 2008
Department of Foreign Affairs
Question 305: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason his Department stated on 21 January 2008 that it was no longer accepting personal cheques as it takes ten days for clearance by the banks, in view of the reply to a DÃ¡il Ãireann question (details supplied) that the clearing cycle for a cheque should in normal circumstances take no more than three business days; if he is reviewing his policy decision on the non-acceptance of cheques; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4647/08]
The restriction concerning payment by cheque was introduced only in respect of cases where a person requests urgent processing of an application and the issuing of a passport within five days. This approach was taken because a number of cheques had "bounced" following the issuing of a passport. The restriction on payment by cheque for urgent applications has since been reviewed and after careful consideration, it was decided that it should be withdrawn. This was effective from 30 January 2008. In addition to accepting payment by credit card, debit card, cash or through An Post for Passport Express applications, the Passport Office will continue to accept payment by cheque for all applications, including urgent applications.
Question 306: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will put a facility in place to allow passport application forms to be downloaded; if he will set up a facility to enable passports to be applied for on-line; if so the timescale involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4701/08]
The Department is fully committed to the implementation of eGovernment in its services to the public. In this regard, it has recently introduced on line tracking of passport applications. This facility enables an applicant to track the progress of his or her application on line by entering the application number into the Passport Office website.
As regards a full on-line application process, this would pose a considerable challenge, and one which has been made more difficult in the post 9/11 security situation. At present in the EU, a full on on-line application facility is currently available in only two member states (Malta and Estonia). However, in both cases, the passport-issuing authority has access to a national identity database which simplifies the verification of citizenship and identity. In the absence of such a database, the verification process requires the submission of supporting documentation such as certificates of birth or marriage, and the witnessing both of photographs of the applicant and his/her signature in order to verify the correctness and accuracy of the details submitted. In some cases, it may also be necessary to submit a previous passport. The Department will continue to keep the matters of on-line application facilities under review to see whether evolving technology will in time provide a solution.
Question 307: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of passport applications in 1994 and 2007 that were the subject of representations, or were transmitted or routed through, or in any way facilitated by persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4705/08]
The information requested was not recorded on an individual Deputy basis in 1994. However, for 2007, the number of applications recorded by the Department as having been submitted by the Offices of Deputies Hogan and Kenny were, respectively, 0 and 39.
Question 308: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of passports issued by passport express by regular post by the person applying in person through diplomatic or consular missions and through offices of the Houses of the Oireachtas Members in 2005, 2006 and 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4707/08]
The information requested by the Deputy is outlined in the table below.
The Deputy may wish to note that, in addition to the figures requested, it is also possible for Irish citizens to apply for a passport in person at the public offices in Dublin and Cork or to drop their applications into designated collection points or 'drop boxes' at these offices. The combined total for these was some 100,000 for each of the years 2005, 2006 and 2007.
In 2005, the Government decided that, building on the existing free transport, television licence, phone and electricity schemes for older people, passports should also be available free to persons aged 65 and over. This was warmly welcomed at the time. The reality now is that, if this attractive scheme is to work satisfactorily, there clearly has to be a fixed starting date and fixed qualifications for persons to benefit under it. In addition, and unless a passport holder has immediate travel plans, new passports do not have to be applied for on, or be valid from, the date when the previous passport expired. As the persons concerned will both reach 65 years of age in 2009, they may wish to consider waiting until they reach that age and then apply for a free passport.