Almost half of passport applications lack key documents

Effort to address wait times continues but department denies there is a ‘backlog’

The rate of invalid passport applications is almost matching that of valid ones, according to new data released as efforts by the Passport Office to meet a surge in pre-summer demand kick in.

From this week, targeted overtime is being introduced for staff focusing on first time applications.

At the moment about 43 per cent of all applications in the system (49,000 of 115,000) are missing key documentation.

The majority of incomplete applications are for first time applications and this is the primary reason for delays, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.


Last month, the Passport Service received over 137,000 applications, a new monthly record which it says is indicative of “pent-up demand for passports following the relaxation of necessary travel restrictions due to the Covid pandemic”.

First time passport applications are the most complex and currently take about 40 working days to process, compared to an average of 10 days for adult renewals and 15 for more complex child renewals.

While the level of staff is due to increase from 761 to 920 next month, other major infrastructural changes are being slowly phased in to overhaul the system and enable it to keep pace.

The technology company HID Global recently announced it had been brought in to develop the new passport issuance and processing system (Pips).

In partnership with Irish companies AG2 and Inpute Technologies, it will eventually replace the current operating system with a platform capable of handling increased application volumes while maintaining security.

The spokesman explained that while it officially commenced last November, this year is expected to see detailed design, testing and phased implementation into 2023.

“It will not assist in addressing the immediate challenges facing the Passport Service but it should mitigate the risk of such challenges in the future,” he said.

The department has also issued a new tender for ongoing facial recognition software, a key tool in facilitating secure passport processing. The existing supplier is Irish company Daon which was awarded the initial contract in 2016.

However, it is adamant that while current numbers in the application queue are high, they do not represent a “backlog”.

“There is a high level of applications being processed through the system, with a continuous stream of new applications and a continuous dispatch of completed passports happening every day.”

Despite some disruption during Covid-19, all Passport Service staff have returned to onsite working since last May and the public counter service currently offers 340 weekly appointments.

Up-skill training has begun for staff with a focus on complex applications, “critical to reducing the current processing times for first time applications”.

At its Balbriggan office, construction work has begun on physically expanding office space to cater for new staff which should be complete by the end of September, while temporary space has been provided in Swords.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times