Four in 10 passport applications are incomplete and this is the major cause of long delays in issuing documents, the Department of Foreign Affairs has said.
Reacting to widespread criticism of a huge passport backlog, it denies such a backlog exists – because only checked and complete applications enter processing.
“While the Passport Service is experiencing a very high volume of applications, this does not represent a backlog,” a spokeswoman said.
“Applications are all being processed in the usual way, with a continuous stream of new applications and a continuous dispatch of completed passports happening every day.”
She added that 45pc of adult renewal applications are processed “within one to two days” – meaning 55pc present a problem.
The department says it has issued more passports this year than in the same period before the pandemic.
More than half a million Irish citizenship documents have been issued so far in 2022 – whereas in 2019, pre-pandemic, 420,000 were issued.
Nonetheless, there is a delay for 195,000 applications, believed to be a record number, and the department has stressed the Passport Online service is the fastest way to apply.
“Online renewal applications are processed four times faster than paper renewal applications,” a spokeswoman said.
Emer Higgins, Fine Gael TD for Dublin Mid-West, said applying online is the fastest way and the name Passport Express should be dumped because it is misleading the public, with the paper-based application taking eight weeks instead of 10 to 15 days online.
“Every week my office is encountering people who have applied for their passport through the Passport Express method because they understandably think that the name implies it must be the fastest method, but it is not,” she said.
The issue is likely to dominate parliamentary party meetings this week as TDs complain – with constituents desperate to get away on foreign holidays after two pandemic summers.
Children’s first-time passports are taking around 40 days because they require extra checks, and longer still with Passport Express.
But a spokeswoman for Simon Coveney’s department told the
Irish Independent: “Between 4,000 and 5,000 passports are being issued every day, and we’re expecting about 1.4 million applications this year.”
There are three issuing locations and a major drive is now on to increase staff levels by half in order to combat the backlog. The number of officials handling applications will rise to 900 from 600.
“Applications that are correctly completed are being processed by the Passport Service within the average turnaround times,” the department spokeswoman said.
“Since March, the Passport Service has reduced the turnaround time for first-time passports with fully correct applications from 40 working days to 30 working days.”
Fianna Fáil TD Aindrias Moynihan urged the department to look at streamlining the passport process, with 88,000 first-time applications with an average waiting time of 30 days to be processed.
He said delays can arise when the Passport Office is unable to verify guardian forms for a first-time applicant which have been stamped and signed in local garda stations.
The Cork North West TD said: “When the Passport Office is not able to verify the form, the application is sent back and this causes huge stress for families.
“One garda station was getting up to 13 calls per hour – and this was at the lower end of the spectrum compared to other stations – from the Passport Office to verify a form that had been stamped and signed.”
Mr Moynihan suggested a daily email from garda stations of verified applications.
He added: “The time it takes to get a passport now is causing a lot of stress for people who are planning to travel.”