The processing of a backlog of more than 31,500 foreign birth registrations for passports will resume on Monday on a phased basis after it was halted at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The processing of such applications was taking 18 months before the pandemic due to an “unprecedented surge” in applications following the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
Foreign birth registrations are processed for those seeking Irish citizenship through “descent”. If a grandparent was born in Ireland, or if a parent was an Irish citizen at the time of the applicant’s birth, even if not born in Ireland, they can become an Irish citizen. Once the birth is registered through the Department of Foreign Affairs, they can apply for an Irish passport.
Staff dealing with foreign birth registrations, like most passport office employees, were re-assigned to essential services at the height of the pandemic, contributing to complaints about serious delays in processing applications.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said resources would be allocated to deal with the high volume of applications “with a focus on reducing turnaround times”.
In reply to a parliamentary question from Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, the Minister said more than 5,000 emergency applications had been dealt with this year and the resumption of services would involve working through a backlog of 31,522 applications from 133 countries, in order of receipt.
The largest number of applications are from England at 16,093 followed by the US with 7,815 and Scotland with 1,512 and 1,004 from Australia. Countries from where single applications were made include Western Sahara, Liechtenstein, Mozambique, Rwanda, Aruba, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia and Guam.
Ms Murphy praised advances in the Passport Service system where the development of online renewals had been a “spectacular success”.
But she expressed concern about delays for first time applicants and for foreign birth registrations. Before the pandemic she said her office might receive an occasional passport query, perhaps every two months, but now there were queries every day. “They’re routine now,” she said.
The Kildare North TD said those seeking foreign birth registration “are generally people who’ve been abroad and they’ve a new baby and they don’t intend to stay permanently away”.
She said she put in the parliamentary question because of a high number of queries about foreign birth registrations. The applications take at least 18 months but if people want to come home within that time it is very problematic and stressful “and that’s why people will get on to TDs”, she said.
Ms Murphy added that in some cases “we’re finding the passport will arrive but the supporting documentation, and very often that’s the parents’ passports, are not returned for a week or two”.
The issue around passport application delays has been raised consistently by TDs and senators at Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings.
Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne cited one emergency case where a grandmother in the US was dying and the family wanted to visit her. However, the youngest grandchild, who had been born just before the pandemic, did not have a passport and with all the delays “the passport arrived on the day of the funeral”.