The Department of Foreign Affairs has apologised for eight-week delays in people receiving new passports amid claims some people have missed weddings abroad because of the problems.
After being grilled on the situation yesterday, department secretary general Niall Burgess accepted that there is “immense frustration” over the issue and acknowledged that existing services are not meeting needs.
Speaking during a two-hour Public Accounts Committee meeting, Mr Burgess said the passport office has brought in temporary extra staff to cope with demand and to speed up passport renewals for citizens under pressure to meet travel deadlines.
However, after being told some people have missed weddings, while others have missed flights due to the situation, Mr Burgess apologised for the delays and accepted they are causing travellers unnecessary stress.
“It is a matter of immense frustration some areas in the passport service are taking longer than planned, and that we are unable to answer all phone calls, and that some people will not receive their passport in time to meet their travel plans. We aim for continuous improvement in our service on the one hand and easier access on the other hand as everything is built on this foundation,” he said. “But I completely agree there is immense frustration.”
Mr Burgess said the passport office regularly enlists temporary workers to help clear up delays, once they have received garda clearance, and is attempting to significantly reduce the eight-week delays in some cases as soon as possible.
He said people in real need of new passports should seek the renewals via the faster online system instead of going to passport offices directly, and pointed to the fact that 90% of passports are still completed and sent to citizens within 10 working days.
While accepting Mr Burgess’ comments, a number of PAC members raised serious concerns about the existing system, including Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy.
Ms Murphy said she is aware of one specific case where a member of the public was unable to travel for a wedding abroad because of delays in renewing her passport and urged department officials to take further steps to address the matter.
“You did say nobody has missed a travel deadline,” she said. “I’ve had a few. I’ve had somebody who missed a wedding, for example, who couldn’t get a passport. One or two other cases within the last year that would fall into that category. It’s not always your [the passport office’s] fault, someone who looks at the passport a week or two beforehand. But that particular one sticks out because it was very hurtful for the family.”
A number of other TDs also raised issues, including Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells, unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly, and Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell.
PAC chairman and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said the biggest problem is the passport express service, which is leading to weeks of delays for thousands of people who are under pressure to meet travel and flight deadlines.
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