Foreign Affairs warns it may have to process 1.75m passport applications next year

Department faces single biggest operational challenge due to ‘pent-up capacity demand’

A massive backlog in passports is a  primary concern for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

A massive backlog in passports is a primary concern for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The Department of Foreign Affairs warned it could have to process 1.75 million passport applications next year, having never even reached an annual figure of one million before.

In a pre-budget submission, the department said “significant pent-up capacity demand” for passports was the single biggest operational challenge it would face in 2022.

It said it would likely need an extra €18 million in funding to pay for 300 staff and was already in discussions with the Office of Public Works (OPW) about fitting out extra office space.

The department also warned it was facing a significant bill for its annual contribution to the UN, for which it would require an estimated €12 million.

Another €1.75 million would be needed to open new consulates in Lyon, Toronto and Miami, as well as the full-year costs of very recently opened missions in Manchester and Tehran.

The department said it was also likely to be hit with a bill of €3 million for running the long-awaited referendum on voting rights in presidential elections.

It said it wanted another €900,000 to set up a Global Ireland Media Challenge Fund to enhance “citizen engagement” around Ireland’s membership of the UN security council.

Correspondence with the Department of Public Expenditure reveals, however, that a massive backlog in passports was its primary concern.

A letter from Joe Hackett, the secretary general at the Department of Foreign Affairs, said: “As international travel reopens at an increasing pace every day, this will create a significant surge in passport applications over the next 12 months as citizens plan and organise foreign travel.

“A mid-level estimate is that there could be 1.75 million passport applications next year. To put this in context, the highest number of applications previously processed was in 2019, pre-Covid-19, when circa 950,000 applications were received. This is nearly a doubling of applications.”

A breakdown of its €18 million request suggested €9 million to pay for 300 extra full-time and part-time staff and another €9 million to cover passport books, stationery, postage, extra building operating costs, and other administrative bills.

Mr Hackett also warned there was a significant backlog in the processing of foreign birth registration applications, the system by which Irish citizenship can be awarded by descent.

A request for funding said that over the past 18 months, only emergency applications had been processed leaving a “build-up of 30,000 applications”.

It said many of these involved UK citizens who were looking to exercise their right to Irish citizenship because of Brexit.

The department said increased investment in overseas development would reap significant benefits for Ireland, particularly as the pandemic drags on.

Mr Hackett wrote: “The international bill for mitigating Covid-19 globally remains high, and largely unfunded.

“Ireland will come under additional international pressure during 2022 to step up its contributions to global efforts to reduce the incidence of the virus, especially in developing countries, including vaccine sharing.”

Northern Ireland funding

Other requests for funding by the department included an extra €3.5 million for commitments relating to Northern Ireland.

This was made up of €1.5 million for the New Decade New Approach Agreement and an increase of €2 million for the International Fund for Ireland.

A further €1.25 million was sought as part of a new strategy to increase the presence of Irish people in EU institutions.

It said it was of vital importance that Ireland’s representation on bodies including the EU Commission, the EU Council, the Court of Justice, and other bodies was improved.

The department’s submission said: “They are useful contact points for Irish Government officials on EU matters and can help to inform departments on the internal functioning of the institutions and upcoming developments.

“They can also give early warning to the Irish system on significant upcoming policy or legislative decisions taken by the commission that could have an impact on Ireland.”

Asked to comment, the department said it had nothing further to add.