Written answers

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Department of Justice and Equality

Citizenship Applications

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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463. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the steps she is taking to reduce the time applicants are waiting for the processing of their citizenship applications. [49865/21]

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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464. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the amount received by her Department in application fees for Irish citizenship by naturalisation annually since 1 January 2015; the way these amounts are spent annually for the same period; and the justification for these fees. [49866/21]

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 463 and 464 together.

I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it and my Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and at all levels of public health restrictions. However, the combined impact of the 2019 Jones judgment and the necessary health and safety related restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 disruption has resulted in the processing timeline for standard applications increasing.

Aside from these specific issues, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process. Processing timescales can be impacted by incomplete applications having to be returned; further documentation being required from the applicant; where the payment of the required certificate fee is awaited; or if the applicant has not been engaging with my Department.

In some instances, the input of several government agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction is needed and the request and receipt of information from these sources can result in delays in processing some applications. Issues can also arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which is required to be considered before a final decision is taken.

For applicants that were in the final stages of processing, in January, my Department opened a temporary system to enable these applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. Since then, almost 6,200 certificates of naturalisation have been issued so far this year and a further 1,000 people have paid the statutory fee and will receive their certificates in the coming weeks.

The Citizenship Division of my Department has prioritised bringing the oldest applications on hand to conclusion and a significant number of these applicants have received their certificates since the introduction of the temporary process.

Since 13 September, citizenship staff have returned to the office on a new attendance pattern that will see a gain of approximately 500 production hours per week due to increased footfall on-site. To further address the volume of applications on hand, additional staff are being assigned to the citizenship team; and a number of digitisation measures have been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including eTax clearance, eVetting and online payments.

The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up more staff to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve service to our customers and reduce waiting times. Based on this, my objective is to achieve an improved decision making timeframe of 6-9 months for a majority of applications during 2022.

The table below provides the amount received in application fees for Irish citizenship by naturalisation annually since 1 January 2015.

Year Total Application Fees received Total Certificate fees received Total Fees
2015 €2,046,799 9,422,250 €11,469,049
2016 €2,270,620 7,700,550 €9,971,170
2017 €2,065,700 6,744,800 €8,810,500
2018 €2,048,725 6,765,104 €8,813,829
2019 €2,316,825 4,754,750 €7,071,575
2020 €1,241,625 5,577,450 €6,819,075
2021* €1,350,125 4,840,800 €6,190,925

* The figures for 2021 are approximate to 07/10/2021.

In relation to the way these amounts are spent annually, money received goes into central funds so it is not possible to trace a pathway from receipt to expenditure.

The fees charged in respect of applications for a certificate of naturalisation are governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Regulations 2011 and have not increased in the last ten years. The fee is charged in two parts. The current application fee is €175, payable when an application for naturalisation is lodged, in addition to which is a certificate fee, payable when a certificate of naturalisation issues. The standard certificate fee is €950, while a reduced fee of €200 applies in the case of an application made on behalf of a minor or in certain cases where the application is made by a widow, widower or surviving civil partner of an Irish citizen. In the case of recognised refugees and stateless persons, there is no certificate fee.

I am informed that the introduction of the application fee had an immediate positive effect on the quality and completeness of applications, which is ultimately to the benefit of applicants. All of the fees payable under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, are kept under ongoing review by my Department.

The standard fees payable by an applicant are designed to reflect the effort and cost involved in processing applications for a certificate of naturalisation which, given the benefits involved, is quite a detailed process. The Deputy will be aware that formal citizenship ceremonies were introduced ten years ago. These have been universally well-received by participants as the ceremonies provide a sense of dignity and a celebratory occasion that serves to underscore the importance to both the State and the applicant of the grant of Irish citizenship. It is my intention that they will resume once it is safe to do so.

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