Passport Office struggles as more than 10,000 applications received in a day

DFA secretary general says staff share public’s frustration unanswered phone calls

Demand for Irish passports is at a record level with applications up 8.5 per cent year on year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Demand for Irish passports is at a record level with applications up 8.5 per cent year on year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

More than 10,000 applications for an Irish passport were received in one day last month, an Oireachtas committee was told.

Demand for Irish passports is at a record level with applications up 8.5 per cent year on year, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general Niall Burgess.

Mr Burgess admitted that staff at the Irish Passport Office are struggling with the “unprecedented demand” and have exhibited “immense grace under pressure”.

He told the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs that staff shared the frustration of the public that they could not answer every telephone call to the Passport Office.

“If we are frustrated at what we cannot do, our customers are likewise,” he said.

Mr Burgess said online renewals, which were introduced last year, are working very well and most are being processed within 10 working days (15 calendar days).

He said for those passport applicants the service had “improved immeasurably”.

However, he said it was a source of “immense frustration” that other passport applicants are taking longer than that.

Currently half of all those who apply for their passports through the Passport Express service operated by An Post do not receive their passports within 35 days.

These include people who cannot process their passports online - those applying for a passport for the first time, children and those looking for replacements for lost or stolen passports.

Committee chair Sean Fleming said the Irish Passport Office needs to be more proactive in letting customers know about the delays. He pointed out that 21,000 passports last year took at least six weeks to be processed and 22,000 took up to eight weeks.

He also suggested the Passport Office should encourage more people to go online to renew their passports - a process which he acknowledged was working very well.

Mr Burgess said the rise in the number of passport applicants was not exclusively driven by Brexit.

Applications from the UK and Northern Ireland account for 10 per cent of all passport requests and there was not a “significant spike” in demand this year.

“The greater part of our increase has to do simply with the fact that people are travelling and are applying for passports,” he said.

“Our projections from previous years have been in line. The issue this year has been getting the right staff in line.”

He suggested that the Irish Passport Office should look at hiring more permanent staff instead of just taking on temporary staff at the busiest times of year.

Passport Office head Fiona Penollar revealed that the volume of passport applications - with more than 10,000 applications in day - can lead to delays.

However, she said the turnaround times for passports are “live and they are valid”. She said turnaround times are listed on the Passport Office website as being 33 days for first time/lost/stolen passport applicants and 15 days for renewals.

“The real turnaround time is 14 days for renewals and 31 days for first time/lost/stolen passports,” she told the committee.

She also said that it will be possible to renew children’s passports online by the end of the year.