Department sorry for delays with passport service as applicants wait up to two months
The boss of the Department of Foreign Affairs has apologised for delays in the passport service that have seen some applications take up to two months to process.
The department's secretary general Niall Burgess told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that there had been an "unprecedented demand" for passports.
He said while some online applications could be processed within days, there were issues with the Passport Express postal service. This is particularly the case for first-time applicants and those whose passports have been stolen or lost.
Mr Burgess said passport office staff take pride in what they do and the delays are a "matter of intense frustration for us".
He acknowledged that the office had been unable to answer all the phone calls it got from applicants who were concerned they won't get their passports in time to travel, and conceded that customers were "even more" frustrated than staff.
"The phone service is not what it should be at present and I apologise for that," he said.
Mr Burgess said he believed the passport office would be meeting its targets by next month. He said the Garda vetting process for temporary staff joining the passport service took longer than previous years and contributed to the delays.
PAC chairman Seán Fleming quoted figures provided to TDs that showed around half of the 100,000 Passport Express applications this year failed to meet the 21-day target for processing and pointed out that 22,000 took up to two months.
Mr Fleming described Passport Express as "the slow lane" as opposed to the online process that allows adults to renew their passports, where 90pc are completed within 10 days.
He said people should be encouraged to use the online system if they were eligible, and Mr Burgess agreed.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said she was aware of a number of people whose travel plans had been affected by the passport delays including one person who missed a wedding abroad.
She said it was not always the fault of the passport office but that individuals do contact TDs when they are concerned about their travel plans and can't get through to the passport office.
Mr Burgess said that the passport office was not aware of any applicants that missed a flight due to the delays and that it always tried to process such applications.
He said that there had been more applications due to Brexit but this was not the major part of the increased demand that was being experienced.
"The greater part of the increase has to do simply with the fact that more people are traveling and applying for passports," he said.