The Irish passport: everything you need to know

It’s peak season for the Passport Office. Is yours in date and in order? If not, read this

Already this year 500,000 Irish passports have been processed, an increase of 11 per cent on last year. Photograph: Alan Betson

Already this year 500,000 Irish passports have been processed, an increase of 11 per cent on last year. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Behind the walls of an inconspicuous office building on Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2, a daily battle is waged against national and international criminals. The Irish Passport Office’s anti-fraud department guards against the efforts many people make to fraudulently obtain one of the world’s most coveted passports.

Coveted by criminals

The Irish document is rated at fifth globally by the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index, which is a ranking of countries according to the travel freedom that their citizens enjoy. Citizens of Ireland can visit 172 countries worldwide visa-free. The highest on the list, Germany, allows access to 176 countries.

For this reason, the Irish passport is much valued by people engaged in money laundering and criminal activities. It can be worth thousands of dollars on the black market.

The director of passport services, Austin Gormley, is understandably reticent about how exactly his staff go about their work. “We have resources to foil attempts of ID theft,” he says. “We have significant capability to detect false applications for passports, and they are sent to an Garda Síochána for investigation.”

Growth in numbers

These security measures have been implemented at a time of growing busyness for the office. In 1996, passport applications numbered 250,000; this year more than 800,000 passports will be issued. Already this year 500,000 passports have been processed, an increase of 11 per cent on last year.

Eight million journeys abroad will be taken by Irish people this year.

This time of year is always busy due to the holiday exodus. The second half of the year is expected to be less busy, but people are beginning to order passports earlier.

UK applicants

Brexit has been the key driver in the recent increase in passport applications. They rose 14 per cent in 2016, and will probably be up 20 per cent this year.

Already, 100,000 people in the UK have applied for Irish passports. More than two million Irish citizens in Britain are entitled to Irish passports, and another three million have access through grandparents. Some 1.3 million in Northern Ireland are also entitled to an Irish passport.

To cope with a backlog, the Passport Office has taken on 260 temporary staff, and has extended working hours. The aim is to have a turnaround of 15 days per passport, though it has been longer at times this year.

Online renewal

The introduction of a new online renewal service in March is improving waiting times. Most renewals take place within two weeks. The streamlining of the service means adults no longer need to go to a Garda, doctor or priest to get passport photographs signed. You can also apply online from anywhere in the world and your passport will be posted to you for €5, plus the €80 fee. The website is passportonline.dfa.ie.

There have been 50,000 online renewals since March, when the service was introduced. Currently online renewals are taking about a week. The app is gone but passports and passport card renewals can still be ordered online at passportonline.dfa.ie using a tablet, laptop or desktop.

Passport card

The online service also means you can order a passport card (a credit-card sized version of your passport that can be used in 31 countries) at the same time, for a reduced fee of €105 for both passport book and card. There is no postage charge in Ireland. Passport cards were issued to 120,000 citizens in the first year, 25,000 of these from UK.

Security features

The new electronic passports have considerable security features. Your biometric photograph now appears three times in your passport – as a photograph, as a laser perforated into the book and as a hologram. There is also an imbedded radio-frequency identification chip and colour-changing ink.

The biggest issue

Gormley says the biggest issue the Passport Office deals with is thwarting criminals from stealing people’s identifications. “You would be surprised how many we catch. We have substantial capabilities and wider databases to catch criminals. If you ever had a passport, we still have your photographs and can compare them.”

Returned photos

Not all photos are accepted by the office. If you are applying keep in mind the guidelines on how to take photographs: no photos in the shower, as the tiles show up in the background. The same goes for door panels. Selfies are also a no-no you would need a four-foot-long arm to take it at the right distance. Don’t use a pillow as a background. The outside of your plastered house is probably too bumpy, as is embossed wallpaper. These are just a few of the photographs that had to be returned.

Get someone to take your picture against a white background or go to the chemist, where they will take your picture and email it to you or supply it on a USB key. Or you can use the Photo-me booths in Tesco supermarkets or Topaz filling stations.

Emergencies

The vast majority of people are accommodated in getting urgent passports, including the ones who booked flights before checking their passport or who discovered they had lost their passport. If you are travelling in less than three weeks you must make an appointment online to get a passport in time, even in 24 hours.

For emergency renewal of passports for children, both parents must attend the Passport Office for the appointment. If necessary, for example in the case of separated couples, parents can come separately to the Passport Office, but both have to bring identification and sign. New passports for children take up to six weeks and cannot be issued as an emergency.

Finally

Always check and double-check your passport before making travel bookings.

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