The Passport Office will start accepting children’s renewals online from this afternoon, November 28th, in a major overhaul of its computer systems that will dramatically speed up passport-processing times.
And there will no longer be a requirement for parents to go to a Garda station to get an application signed. The witness category has been widened to include those who are likely to have the most contact with a family, including school secretaries, creche managers and public health nurses.
Until now only adults seeking to renew their passports were able to make online applications and all minors had to take a traditional route which was considerably slower, more expensive and more complicated.
"The main thing is that from now on all Irish children no matter where they are in the world will be able to renew online," said the head of the office, Fiona Penollar.
While a key element of the application process for children will still involve traditional mail, most of the steps, including filling in the application form and uploading digital passport photographs, can now be done online.
Ms Penollar told The Irish Times that by opening up the online application process to minors, the different parameters connected to a child’s application can be more clearly outlined to parents.
“To capture all the different circumstances that may be attached to a child’s application on paper forms has been impossible but we can do that very easily online,” she said. “There are over 200 different routes a parent or guardian can take when making a passport application for a minor and they can all be readily signposted online.”
Ms Penollar stressed that the safeguards in place to protect children from being removed unlawfully from the State have been enhanced. Consent forms, which will have watermarked pictures of the children, will have to be printed out by parents or guardians and sent in the post as part of the application process.
All guardians will still have to give consent for an application to be made unless a court order says otherwise and the form will still have to be signed by a witness before it is posted to the passport office.
Under the changes, it will also be easier for adults who are looking for new passports because of name changes due to marriage or divorce or because the books are full of stamps to have their applications processed online.
At present about 50 per cent of the applications made by adults are online but the office is hopeful that the number will jump sharply as more parents will be able to make all their family applications over the internet.
“It is genuinely faster, cheaper and easier,” Ms Penollar said.
All told, half the adults who apply online are waiting less than a week for their passport, with the remainder getting their documents in under two weeks as the processing time is at least four times faster than traditional channels.