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Sunday 19 November 2017

Welfare offices to close as dispute escalates

Anne-Marie Walsh, Shane Hickey, and Colin Gleeson

THE union at the centre of the passport dispute plans to shut down social welfare offices from today.

The Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) last night stepped up its campaign to reverse Budget pay cuts by announcing plans to close welfare office across the country this afternoon.

The move, which will affect thousands of people depending on benefits, comes as the passport dispute continues to worsen. The massive backlog in passport applications has jumped to 50,000 and is set to get even worse as the threat of a bitter strike looms. At the start of the week, 40,000 applications were still unprocessed and another 10,000 applications have since been added to the pile. With thousands of people joining the queue every day, the service is in crisis ahead of the peak Easter season following weeks of industrial action by civil servants over the Budget pay cut. And the office in Dublin may now face a complete shutdown after lower-paid civil servants served notice of strike action that could start in seven days. CPSU members will act if management docks their pay and the Department of Foreign Affairs plans to reduce their wages if there are more office closures. However, the union is not expected to close the office on Molesworth Street today.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has also accused civil service unions of blocking its plan to take on 50 extra temporary workers to deal with the extra pressure.


The crisis reached fever pitch yesterday when one frustrated man chained himself to a door inside the office in Dublin after being told his passport was not there. Colin Gillick (34) from Aughrim, Co Wicklow, is due to fly to Thailand on Monday to be the best man at his brother's wedding. He said he began the process of renewing his passport a fortnight ago and was told it would be ready this week. After queuing all night on Tuesday, he entered the office yesterday morning and was told his passport "hadn't even gone through the system".

After speaking with the supervisor in a small cubicle, Mr Gillick locked the door behind him, took a chain from his bag and fastened himself to the brass doorknob.

Mr Gillick was threatened with arrest by gardai but ended his protest after being told to return to the office tomorrowto collect his documents. Other desperate travellers are switching their applications from the Dublin to the Cork Passport Office in a bid to get their documentation faster. A total of 90 travellers queued from 5am yesterday outside the Cork Passport Office on the South Mall after despairing of getting served in Dublin. Only 50 people had queued on Tuesday morning.

Travellers from Offaly, Wexford, and Kilkenny who would normally use the Molesworth Street office had travelled to Cork. The backlog looks set to grow after the Foreign Affairs Minister said the unions' deal to make applications from people travelling within days a priority would not have a big impact.

Yesterday, the most senior civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs said the backlog was now so large that all applications are now considered urgent. Secretary General David Cooney said the union offer is "too little too late".

Irish Independent

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