Written answers

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Passport Services

Photo of Aindrias MoynihanAindrias Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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22. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of persons awaiting their passport to issue; the measures being taken to address the current backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56468/21]

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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26. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the work being carried out by his Department to ensure speedy processing of passport applications and minimising delays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56296/21]

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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30. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the Passport Office plans to reduce the length of time it takes for corrected documentation to be uploaded to a passport application; if these applications which have been already been initially checked can be processed immediately on receipt of the corrected information rather than the turnaround time being extended further; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56348/21]

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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39. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas are restricted to making five enquiries regarding passport applications per week even in circumstances in which the enquiries relate to passport applications which have already exceeded the stated timeframe for processing. [56302/21]

Photo of James O'ConnorJames O'Connor (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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50. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position regarding the speed of applications being processed through the Passport Office; his views on the best way to improve to process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56561/21]

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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67. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the issues with passport express; the way these may be resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56506/21]

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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68. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if an update will be provided on the expected new target delivery of passports following the announcement that over 450 new staff will be hired within the passport service; the way in which the passport service is preparing for the expected busiest year ever in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56290/21]

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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69. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas are restricted to making five enquiries regarding passport applications per week; and the reason a follow-up query regarding the same application is considered a new query. [56303/21]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 26, 30, 39, 50, 67, 68 and 69 together.

Passport Service operations were severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as were many Government Services. Notwithstanding that disruption and despite the fact that the processing of passports requires physical distance on site to deliver this service during Level 5 restrictions, the Passport Service maintained operations throughout the pandemic. Passport Service staff also maintained contact with citizens and provided emergency passport services at all times since the onset of the pandemic.

The Passport Service has issued over half a million passports to date in 2021 and 45% of simple adult renewals issue within one business day.

The current passport processing times are:

- 10 working days for Simple Adult renewals

- 15 working days for Complex renewals

- 40 working days for First Time Applications on Passport Online

- 8 weeks for An Post’s mail-in “Passport Express” service

The passport processing times are based on current average application turnaround times and apply to passport applications that are fully complete, where all required supporting documentation has been correctly submitted to the Passport Service by the applicant.

There are currently 98,000 online applications and 10,000 paper applications on hand with the Passport Service. Applications can take longer than the average turnaround time if applicants have not provided all of the required documentation to correctly complete their application. Of the online applications, 34,000 or 35% of applications are incomplete and require the applicant to submit additional documents. The Passport Service engages with all applicants who have not submitted the required documentation to ensure that their application is completed correctly and can proceed through the processing system.

Of the online applications that are currently with the Passport Service for processing, approximately 7% are past the estimated issue-by date. These applications are being prioritised by the Passport Service who are working very hard to eliminate these delays.

The Passport Service continually examines how to improve processing times and engagement with applicants. Preparation is currently underway for several system and service improvements that will enhance the customer service experience and will improve processing times. A particular improvement that will be of interest to Deputies is a change to the documentary management process that will reduce the turnaround time when additional documents need to be submitted by the applicant. These improvements will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months.

In the context of the National Development Plan, my Department is making a major investment in the future of the Passport Service. Over the next couple of years, we will replace the core technology underpinning the service, which will deliver efficiencies and a more resilient passport system. Budget 2022 also included an investment of an additional €10m in passport services in response to the increasing demand for passports both at home and abroad.

Adequate staffing of the Passport Service to respond to demand remains a priority for my Department and is an issue that is kept under constant review. My Department is actively working with the Public Appointments Service on an ongoing basis to recruit and assign additional staff to meet the current and forecasted high demand for passports. Additional permanent and temporary officers will be assigned between now and the end of January 2022, bringing total staff numbers to 920 and effectively doubling the number of staff at the Passport Service since June of this year.

In addition, the Passport Service is working with relevant divisions within my Department to ensure the health and safety of all staff and is finalising plans in co-operation with the OPW to ensure that additional staff will be accommodated to meet the anticipated increased demand for passports expected in 2022.

With regard to the dedicated passport phone line, as Deputies will be aware a temporary line has been established to respond to queries on urgent passports cases.

For operational reasons queries on this temporary line are restricted to fifteen per week, this was previously 5 per week. The Emergency Passport service remains available in cases of medical emergency or death of a family member abroad. In addition, the Passport Offices in Mount St, Dublin 2 and in Cork are now offering an Urgent Appointment Service for the renewal of passports. To avail of the Urgent Appointment Service for Passport Renewal, applicants can book an appointment through the Department of Foreign Affairs website (www.dfa.ie/passports). Over 800 urgent appointments have been facilitated since the Passport Service launched this service on 27th September 2021.

My Department fully recognises that Passport Express, and Northern Ireland Passport Express, continue to be an important channel for applicants who do not wish to use the online system or who have limited digital skills. Demand for the Passport Express service has fallen significantly since 2019 as more applicants choose Passport Online and benefit from the faster turnaround times available through this efficient online service.

Passport Online will continue to be the priority channel given the efficiencies that are in-built in the system for both the applicant and the Passport Service. The processing of an online application is consistently up to four times faster than the processing time of a paper application.

Passport Online can be accessed by all first time applicants, irrespective of age both children and adults, in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. All Irish citizens, including children, can use the online system to renew their passports from anywhere in the world.

I urge citizens to check the validity of their passports before booking travel and to ensure that they apply in plenty of time. In the case of people planning to travel in 2022, whose passports are already out of date or who have children who are first-time applicants, I would encourage them to apply now online.

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