More than 16,000 passports have either been issued in the last week or are in the “final stage” of processing since restrictions eased and the passport service began to scale up operations.
More than 12,200 passports were issued and some 4,000 more are at the end stage of being processed, according to Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Colm Brophy.
The Minister said he is confident the backlog of some 89,000 online applications will be finalised within six to eight weeks.
It is the service’s goal to have all applications on hand finalised by the end of next month, he said.
The service also aims to ensure “we have the capacity for high levels of anticipated demand with passport applications when current travel restrictions ease”.
Following the implementation of Level 5 restrictions only one-third of staff worked in the office to process applications. This led to a significant backlog and at the end of April there were 89,000 online applications in the system although the service still processed nearly 40,000 applications during Level 5.
Cabinet late last month approved a proposal by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney that the service be considered essential and this resulted in an increase in staff attendance in passport offices. This has meant a faster clearance of the backlog.
Speaking in the Seanad Mr Brophy said there had been a year-on-year increase in applications which peaked in 2019 when approximately 935,000 passports were issued. He said investment ensured that “the system is robust enough to support the continuously global demand for passports”.
The Minister told Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile the department does not intend to open a dedicated passport office in Northern Ireland as "we are satisfied we have the capacity currently to meet demand".
‘Identifiable need in North’
He stressed that no matter where Irish citizens are living all applications receive the same priority through a process based on date of receipt and type of application.
Mr Ó Donnghaile had called for a new office to be established in the North for which he said “there is a clear, demonstrable and identifiable need”.
The Belfast-based Senator said that “in an emergency situation in which people have to travel, it is not always an easy process for people living in the northeast, the northwest or the west, whether in Ballycastle or Bundoran”.
Pointing to comments from the secretary general of the department that the Passport Office was under “huge pressure as a result of the volume of passport applications being made”, he said that with a new office the “tremendous volume of applications for passport renewals and first-time online applications” could be dealt with “in a much less stressful way”.
Insisting that the service has the capacity to deal with demand Mr Brophy said the Government looked forward to “a return to normal levels of service and to there being shorter turnaround times for our citizens applying from Northern Ireland”.