The backlog of 92,000 applications in the passport system will be cleared within six to eight weeks once level 5 restrictions are eased, the Dáil has been told.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Martin Heydon said most of the 92,000 applications were received in the past three months. He said the figure was quite low compared to the same time in 2019 when 420,000 applications were processe. Some 260,000 were processed last year.
Two thirds of the applications were for renewals, he said, adding that during the current restrictions, Passport Office officials issued 40,000 passports, 3,000 of which were in response to urgent requests.
He said Passport Office staff had been involved in assisting the HSE with contact tracing and the Department of Social Protection with Covid benefits.
Mr Heydon was responding to two Government backbenchers who expressed concern at the difficulties faced by people who use their passport for identification purposes rather than for travel.
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said the Passport Office had been closed for four months and for many, "it has got nothing to do with travel" but rather "the passport is a vital piece of identification in this State".
He said the passport service may be award winning, “but we don’t have a service” only a bare minimum facility operating at a fraction of what was necessary.
Mr Richmond said some people were stuck in "absolute limbo" and "regardless of level 5 restrictions, it is not good enough".
A passport is not something that should be “afforded to” people, he said. “It’s their right.”
The Dublin Rathdown TD said “it’s come to a critical point where people need to either get their passport renewed or back out of the system”.
He said someone had to provide their passport when they applied for a first-time passport for their child and their own document was now caught in the system.
Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill acknowledged that people who had genuine life and death emergencies were being facilitated, but there were also people who required passports “to open a bank account or accept a college application”.
She asked what contingency plan would be put in place to deal with the backlog and if it would include longer working hours or extra days.
Mr Heydon said applications had been dealt with in a number of areas including for necessary travel in cases such as death or serious illness; for citizens resident abroad requiring their passports for visa or work purposes.
The Minister stressed that the Passport Office has a plan to clear the backlog quickly. This would be done within six to eight weeks when application turnaround times would return to five days.