Record number of passports for people from North

 

The number of Irish passports issued annually has almost doubled in seven years, figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs show.

A record 680,000 were processed during 2005, bringing the total number of Irish passport holders throughout the world to some 4.5 million.

The year also saw more people from Northern Ireland receiving Irish passports than ever before: 36,000, compared with 32,000 in 2004 and 28,000 in 2003.

A department spokeswoman said the cross-Border figures reflected the success of the Express Passport Service that was introduced to the North's post office network in 2003 and is still being expanded.

Three quarters of Northern Ireland applicants now use the service. The department estimates that more than 200,000 people in the North, including children, now hold an Irish passport.

In the Republic, 70 per cent of applicants used An Post's Passport Express service, which guarantees delivery of the new passport within 10 working days.

The department's total issue for 2005 represents a 12 per cent increase on last year. The passport offices in Dublin and Cork between them processed 575,000. Sixty overseas missions accounted for the rest.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern said it had been "yet another record year", with the total issue of passports almost twice what it had been in 1998. He said the department was developing "biometric passports" - incorporating physiological data - to be introduced from late 2006.