THE Government plans to slash emergency passport services after it emerged it was costing taxpayers as much as €600 to process a single document.
The proposal, which is before the Labour Relations Commission, involves a reduction of up to 50pc in the staff rostered to deal with out-of-hours emergency passport applications.
The move came after a study revealed that, at the Cork passport office, a single out-of-hours emergency passport was costing €575 to process.
That is more than five times the cost of processing a normal passport in office hours.
It was also found that the Cork office was issuing, on average, just 1.3 emergency passports a week.
The Government hopes that the cutbacks will save €67,000 a year. At present, the passport office has three officers on duty in Dublin and one in Cork for emergency queries.
The proposal is to reduce that to two in Dublin – with none in Cork. As a concession, a third officer can be called in to the Dublin office at peak times.
The department confirmed that a full review of services is under way.
"The need to achieve cost savings has necessitated a full review of all of the department's services including duty officer services in Ireland," a spokesperson said.
"A proposed new integrated service would discontinue the practice of a dedicated passport duty officer in Dublin and Cork and necessarily require that the persons providing this integrated service be based in headquarters (Dublin)."
No changes are anticipated to the Passport Express service or normal in-hours queries.
Emergency passport services are reserved for those who because of personal, health, security or business emergencies need to travel abroad at short notice.
Two years ago, there was a backlog of more than 50,000 applications amid a dispute between the CPSU union, which represents most passport office staff, and the Government.
That dispute, which centred on pay cuts, overtime and the use of temporary staff, resulted in massive queues at all passport offices.
One politician warned that the current proposals threaten similar problems for travellers – particularly those that need to get abroad at short notice because of family or personal crises.
"We have seen rural communities decimated with local post offices been shut down and now the Government want people in Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick, Kerry and Clare to travel to Dublin to get an emergency passport," said Sinn Fein councillor Pat Buckley.