Passport chief faces questioning about queues

The head of the passport office will today face questions regarding the ongoing industrial dispute that left 40,000 people awaiting travel documents.

The head of the passport office will today face questions regarding the ongoing industrial dispute that left 40,000 people awaiting travel documents.

Joe Nugent will attend an emergency meeting of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee in Leinster House which was called to try and solve the current passport impasse.

Staff in the passport office agreed to fast-track emergency cases of bereavement, illness or for people with immediate travel plans.

However hundreds of irate customers are still expected to queue for a fourth day in a row to try and access urgently-needed passports from the office on Dublin’s Molesworth Street.

Dr Michael Woods, committee chairman, said: “All week, we have heard heartbreaking stories of families and children not being able to go on holidays and others being unable to travel in order to fulfil work commitments because they cannot obtain a passport.

“This bottleneck has caused huge anger among the public and the situation cannot be allowed to persist.

“We need to find a way whereby the passport office returns to full capacity as soon as possible.

“The purpose of the meeting (is to hear) how they propose to get the service back to satisfactory operational levels and to hear Committee members suggestions on the matter.”

David Cooney, secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and assistant secretary general, Ray Bassett, will also face the committee of cross party politicians.

The passport workers, members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU), are among thousands of lower-grade public sector workers who have maintained a work-to-rule over several weeks.

Angered after cuts for senior management were reversed after the Budget, they are refusing to answer phones or man counters at lunchtime and are shutting down counters for one afternoon a week.

Union officials insist the action will not be lifted while talks with management continue at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC).

They also claim a valuable printing machine damaged in a flood last Monday had compounded problems created by staff shortages.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin said the decision of the CPSU to deal with people with imminent travel plans is welcome, but stressed it will not have any major impact on the backlog.

“The only answer to the current difficulties is to go back to normal working and deal with the backlog of applications,” said Mr Martin.

“We need to do this now as we are heading into peak holiday season with thousands of people wanting to travel abroad or return home.

“It is essential that the unions drop their overtime ban and also it is important that the annual recruitment of 50 temporary staff is allowed to go ahead to deal with the seasonal demand.

“It is simply wrong to blame staff shortages for some of the current difficulties while blocking the recruitment of these extra workers.”

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