To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the current processing times for the passport service; the steps that have been taken and the resources allocated to deal with the increased demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien.
As the Deputy will be aware, last year just over 730,000 passports were issued. This represented an increase of over 9% on the year before and demand continues to be very strong so far this year.
Notwithstanding these pressures renewal applications submitted through Passport Express continue to be processed within the fifteen working day target. Some categories, such as first time applicants, take longer because of additional anti-fraud measures for example first-time applicants are advised to allow twenty working days [current turnaround time is 19 working days].
As the Deputy will readily appreciate, it is very important that citizens use the right channel when applying for a passport. There have been a number of cases in recent times where applicants have used Passport Express despite their travel plans falling within the processing period for their passport – and I know that people in this category frequently contact my office and those of other Deputies. Where applicants are travelling in less than 15 working days, the best course of action is to make an online appointment at the Passport Office in Dublin or Cork. There are a limited number of appointments available daily in both offices. I appreciate the assistance of Members of these Houses in promoting good practice and I’d like to thank the Deputy in this regard. This week I will again circulate a note on good practice to Oireachtas Members.
Significant customer service improvements that are being rolled out as part of the Passport Reform Programme will assist in managing growing demand. In particular the new online service for adult renewals to be launched in the coming months will result in reduced turnaround times for applicants and significant efficiency gains for the Passport Service.
In the immediate term and to respond to the seasonal demand and the more general increases, a total of 230 Temporary Clerical Officers have been recruited into the Department. Over half of these Officers are already in place and most others will join by early March. They are assisting permanent staff with passport entitlement checking and customer care, including by responding to queries received via phone calls, emails and social media.
The Passport Service will continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure the effective deployment of staff resources and to minimize the impact of the high demand on turnaround times and on customer service. The need for additional resources will be kept under review.