Struggling to secure an Irish passport: ‘Two weeks after I got my application in, it was a lock out’

Department to resume foreign birth registrations still ‘paused’ despite restrictions easing

John Mullen: ‘Every time you ring the department you get the same answer: until we are out of Level 5 [...]applications won’t be processed.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton

John Mullen: ‘Every time you ring the department you get the same answer: until we are out of Level 5 [...]applications won’t be processed.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton

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Cork’s passport office will resume its urgent appointment service on Tuesday as part of a national strategy to head off a “dramatic increase” in applications expected in the coming months.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has also vowed to jump-start foreign birth registrations (FBRs) that remain “paused” despite an anticipated easing of remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

Routine passport processing slowed to a trickle during the last 18 months but a return to foreign travel, Brexit and the realisation among thousands of would-be travellers that their documents are approaching expiration, has culminated in an expected surge of activity.

Next year is expected to see a 50 per cent increase in renewals over the previous record level.

The biggest problem lies with first-time applications. As of late September, they accounted for 60 per cent of the 130,000 regular applications stuck in the pipeline.

An urgent appointment service opened in Dublin last month and a spokeswoman for the department said it planned to resume similar services at its public office in Cork on Tuesday.

The department is currently recruiting temporary clerical officers to support “expanded passport service operations” in the coming months.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney recently told the Dáil that staff “expect and are planning for a dramatic increase in the number of passports we will need to deliver next year”.

“The previous high involved approximately 1 million passports a year. We expect that figure could be 50 per cent higher next year because of a lag period as a consequence of Covid.”

Additional staff have already been assigned to Dublin offices in Mount Street and Tallaght and there are plans to do likewise in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, and Cork. Routine applications are more quickly processed through its online service, the path preferable to officials anticipating a pre-Christmas surge.

FBR process

However, things appear even more complicated for those attempting to secure an Irish passport through the FBR process. That allows anyone with an Irish grandparent, or a parent who is an Irish citizen, to apply for the document outside of the naturalisation process.

Among those affected is John Mullen who, having lived almost his entire life in Ireland, had hoped swapping his British passport for an Irish one would be relatively straightforward.

Apart from being from an overwhelmingly Irish family, the construction management graduate had good reason for wanting to do so – the document would allow him better terms of access to his industry in Canada than a UK citizen.

But then Covid-19 hit and the pre-pandemic estimated waiting times of between 12 and 18 months was upended. Applicants have been languishing in uncertainty ever since.

Mr Mullen (32) was born in Liverpool but has lived in Co Wexford since he was a child. He opted for FBR “because it is supposed to be the quickest and easiest route. The naturalisation route [requires] documents and documents; five years of bank statements alone.”

FBR is designed specifically for those who had a grandparent born in Ireland, or a parent who was an Irish citizen at the time of their birth, even if they themselves were not born in the country.

John Mullen outside the Passport Office on Lower Mount street in Dublin. Photograph: Laura Hutton
John Mullen outside the Passport Office on Lower Mount Street in Dublin. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Although he only began the process a year ago and was prepared for the wait, the Department of Foreign Affairs website continues to tell applicants that processing has been “paused”.

The department says there are currently 31,000 pending applications. However, urgent requests are still being considered on a case-by-case basis, with 5,000 emergency cases processed so far this year, the department said. It has committed to reducing turnaround times by the end of the year.

But for people such as Mr Mullen, for whom time is precious, the uncertainty and lack of answers is a drain.

“Every time you ring the department you get the same answer: until we are out of Level 5 [...] applications won’t be processed,” he said.

“Two weeks after I got my application in it was [a] lock out. Someone closed the door and turned the lights out.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne is one of a number of politicians to have raised concern around FBR application delays. “A lot of this stuff is document processing,” he said. “It’s not a face-to-face requirement that you have to meet with people. There is absolutely no reason now why foreign birth registrations should not resume.”