Thursday, 3 June 2021
Department of Justice and Equality
163. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when resumption and progression to decision on all naturalisation applications currently waitlisted will take place; when the return of original documentation is expected on these applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29981/21]
My Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and at all levels of public health restrictions. Unfortunately, processing rates have been negatively impacted by the necessary health and safety related restrictions imposed and we have been unable to hold in-person citizenship ceremonies since March 2020.
In addition to the Covid-19 disruption, a High Court case, which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal, also resulted in significant delays and the loss of over six months’ processing time.
Currently, there are just over 24,600 applications on hand. These applications are at various stages within the system, ranging from those just received to those where a decision has been made but it is not possible to issue an invitation to a ceremony.
On 18 January 2021, we opened a temporary system that enables applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. Approximately 2,428 people have received their Irish citizenship since then. A further 1,853 people have returned their signed statutory declarations and we will be sending them their certificates of naturalisation in the coming weeks. By the end of this month, we will have communicated with 6,500 applicants, offering them the opportunity to complete their citizenship through the statutory declaration process.
To further address the volume of applications on hand, we are assigning additional staff to the citizenship team; and we have introduced a number of measures to increase the digitisation of the process. This includes the introduction of eTax clearance and eVetting; rolling out online payments; revising our website to make it more user-friendly for customers; and launching our first chatbot ‘Tara’, which has answered more than 12,000 customer queries since November.
The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up additional resources to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve service to our customers and reduce waiting times.
Under normal circumstances, passports are returned approximately 10 days after their receipt. However, the current limits on staff attendance in the office due to COVID-19 restrictions, has resulted in delays in the return of some passports.
Applicants are advised not to send in their application during the pandemic if they anticipate that they may have to travel at short notice. However, I fully appreciate that people may have to travel at short notice for emergency reasons. The citizenship website advises that in these circumstances, applicants should email the citizenship helpdesk (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the relevant details including postal tracking reference if available. The request must be accompanied by appropriate scanned supporting material detailing the reasons for travel. Any request of this nature is dealt with promptly.