Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
32. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when postal applications for passports will be facilitated again in view of the fact the current situation by which only online applications are being accepted is causing difficulties for some elderly persons and those who cannot operate computers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6243/20]
The Passport Service is operating a limited service at this time, which has allowed us to both reassign staff to our consular services, assisting our citizens abroad and redeploy staff to critical areas including contact tracing for the HSE and Covid-19 payments for Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, all critical services at this time.
The Passport Service continues to process emergency passports for our citizens at home and abroad in cases of emergency. Our WebChat service and a dedicated travel emergency mailbox continue to operate through which we can be contacted in such circumstances. If an applicant does not have computer facilities to access WebChat, then someone on their behalf with access to computer facilities can initially make contact with the WebChat team to outline the query and provide the applicant’s phone number. If the case in question is an emergency, a passport officer will call the applicant directly to provide them with assistance. The Passport Service’s regular customer care phone lines will be available again when normal services resume.
The Passport Service will continue to follow Government guidelines regarding Covid-19. The Passport Service welcomes the recently released Return to Work Safely Protocols developed by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Health and Safety Authority and the Health Service Executive. The Passport Service is working to implement this guidance to ensure a safe return to work for our staff in line with the Government’s roadmap to ease COVID-19 restrictions and reopen Ireland’s economy and society.
Applicants can still apply for passports, including both passport renewals and first time passports, using the Passport Online service, but the usual turnaround times cannot be guaranteed due to the limited services available at present. Passport Online is the cheapest and most convenient way to apply for a passport and this service has won awards for its user-friendly process, including a NALA award for the use of plain English. Passport Online expanded in 2019 to include first time applicants in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain and Europe. Irish citizens including children can also renew their passports online 24/7, from anywhere in the world. It is planned that the production of online applications will begin in Phase 3 (29 June) of the Government’s roadmap. However, turnaround times will be impacted by social distancing requirements to provide our staff with a safe place to work.
Passport applications made via the postal channel require extensive handling and processing by passport staff and as these staff are currently reassigned to other critical services, this application channel is not available at present. The processing of postal applications will recommence when the Passport Service resumes our full normal services.