frustration | 

Over 63,000 passport applications on hold because more information needed, Dáil told

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ chief operating officer came under fire from frustrated TDs who have been deluged with constituents’ complaints
Hugh O'

More than 63,000 passport applications are on hold because the Passport Service needs more information from applicants before making a decision, a Dáil committee has been told.

Department of Foreign Affairs officials told the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday that it currently has 167,000 passport applications on hand, of which over 80pc were made online.

While around 104,000 of these applications are being processed, the committee was told that some 63,000 or around 38pc of the total require further information to “enable us to make a decision to not award or not award a passport”, according to John Conlan, Department of Foreign Affairs’ chief operating officer.

Mr Conlan came under fire from frustrated TDs who have been deluged with constituents’ complaints about the passport application and renewal service in recent months.

The committee was told that applications can take longer for a variety of reasons including the necessity for further information or the need to establish a person’s citizenship. The committee heard that in some instances applications for passports from those outside the State are subject to delays of up to two years.

Mr Conlan said that this was because applications involved the checking and review of documents by staff who had not been in the office during the pandemic. He said there was a plan to target this backlog over the next six months.

He said that there are currently 846 staff working in the Passport Service but that it has an attrition rate of at least 30pc, which he attributed to the current trend in the wider labour market. He said the service intended hiring an additional 100 staff within the next four weeks.

Mr Conlan defended the service’s facial recognition software and described the investment in the passport service over recent years as “transformative”.

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said that some constituents she had dealt with were being advised to do their application on a desktop computer and not their phone.

She said that the delays in processing applications were causing a huge amount of stress as people were missing their travel date. The director of the Passport Service, Siobhan Byrne, acknowledged there were issues for applicants who may be using older phones

“More than half of the applications received online are processed through phone,” she said. “The majority of those people have no issue.”

In his opening statement to the committee, Mr Conlan said that the Passport Service’s customer response to queries to its call centre had fallen short, was not acceptable and he apologised to customers.

“I can assure this committee that we are focusing on addressing this challenge as a matter of priority, including through the temporary recruitment of call-centre staff previously engaged by the HSE,” he said.

He said the Passport Service was continuing to work through the effects of Covid-19 restrictions due to a pent up demand for passports not renewed in 2020 and 2021. Mr Conlan said that turnaround times for passport renewals were “efficient and very competitive when compared internationally”.

He said the Department has so far produced almost 700,000 passports this year - by far the largest number ever produced for a six-month period. He said that 163 passport staff had been redeployed to the Department of Social Protection to help process pandemic unemployment payments and to assist the HSE with contact tracing.

Earlier, the comptroller and auditor general Seamus McCarthy told the committee that in 2020 88pc of online passport applications were processed within 28 days compared to 98pc in 2019. For paper-based applications 87pc were processed within 30 working days in 2020 compared to 88pc in 2019. Mr McCarthy suggested that the Passport Service should have its own expenditure programme.

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