State to set up agency in UK to cope with demand for passports
The Department of Foreign Affairs is considering the launch of a network of independent agents in Ireland and abroad to cope with a surge in passport applications, partly prompted by the UK's Brexit vote.
The department has predicted that by 2019 the number of passports issued will jump to one million. The rush for the coveted passport is going to place enormous pressure on the Passport Service.
The figure will be about 40pc more than the 700,000 Irish passports that were issued in 2015.
And to tackle the huge increase, the department is considering setting up a network of independent agents in Ireland and abroad who will be paid to handle passport applications.
The department reckons the number of applications from Northern Ireland will hit nearly 109,000 in 2019, with another 67,506 likely to be made by people in Britain. That marks a huge increase on current numbers.
This year, the department expects to receive just under 63,000 passport applications from Northern Ireland, and 52,336 from Britain.
Those figures have spiked compared with 2015, amid a stampede for passports as UK residents vie to ensure unhindered post-Brexit access to the EU. The department reckons that demand will remain high even after the UK leaves the EU.
It expects to issue a total of over 6.2 million Irish passports between 2017 and 2023. That's 1.5 million more than the entire population of the country.
It's hoped the passport agent initiative will speed up overall processing times, and help the Passport Service cope with the unprecedented demand that's been spurred by Brexit.
"Demand is expected to continue to grow strongly due to demographic changes, continued increases in overseas travel, the wider use of the passport as an identity document, and Britain's decision to leave the EU," according to the Department.
"The Department is considering partnering with an external agent to set up a network of offices to allow applicants to enrol passport applications during a face-to-face appointment," it added.
The offices would be in a number of different domestic and international locations.
The department has just began a market-sounding exercise, to see if establishing the network would be feasible, how it might work, and the potential costs involved.
Last year, the department initiated a comprehensive reform programme to be undertaken by the Passport Service with the aim of meeting the department's needs over the next decade, while also securing cost savings.
Among the planned or proposed initiatives is the network of agents, as well as an online application project that will start early next year.
The first phase of that online application service will see people able to renew adult passport applications.
In early 2018, the online service will be extended to accept renewal applications for children's passports. By the end of 2018, it's envisaged that the online self-service channel will also accept applications for adult and child passports being issued for the first time.
Eoin Ronayne, the general secretary of the Civil and Public Services Union, said any planned changes to how the passport service might operate would have to first go to consultation with unions and staff. He said the provision for such consultation exists under the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
Meanwhile, speaking in the Seanad, Foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan reiterated his view that appointing a Brexit minister would be a "mistake" as every government is impacted. Mr Flanagan addressed comments by British Prime Minister Theresa May saying "greater clarity" has been brought to the timeline of Britain leaving the EU.
"It is positive there is no longer any uncertainty about the date by which Article 50 will be invoked," he said.