The Department of Foreign Affairs has been asked to clarify the State’s current position on passport applications and to immediately reopen the Passport Office as fears of an extended backlog mount.
At present, no new applications for new or renewed passports are being taken either over the phone or by mail, as the coronavirus crisis has affected production of the documents themselves.
While the Passport Office’s online renewal system is still live, applications received from it are not being processed in real time but rather set aside in a queue until whenever the office reopens.
At present all Passport Office staff have been redeployed across the public sector to “assist public service delivery”.
The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) said it is seeking “clarification” from the Department on the matter in order to “do what is best for our customers during this extremely stressful time”.
At present, the only way to get a passport in Ireland is in cases of “genuine emergency”, which include death or serious illness of a family member or for emergency medical treatment applicants. In order to process such an application people have been instructed to use the Passport Office’s webchat service.
The ITAA said that it is “vital” that lines of communication between itself and the Department remain open “so that we can keep our customers safe and informed of their options now and over the coming weeks and months”.
“This delay in passport renewals will further hurt our industry, as customers who want to book holidays after the quarantine is lifted will be forced to wait for their passport application to be approved,” said ITTA chief executive Pat Dawson.
He said the system will be “overwhelmed” by any pending backlog, which in turn will “drastically” slow the recovery of the travel sector both in Ireland and abroad.
It’s understood that the numbers of backlogged passport applications are relatively low at present, although that situation could change quickly as lockdown restrictions recede and the public turns its mind to a renewal of foreign travel.
The association cited its “concern” over the fact that Ireland’s largest airlines, Ryanair and Aer Lingus, are set to relaunch flight programmes from the start of July despite the fact the Government is currently advising against all non-essential travel.
It called on the Department to issue “clear and concise” guidelines regarding those restrictions, adding it is advising consumers to adhere to the current guidance that all such non-essential travel should continue to be avoided.
Nearly 1m passport applications, a record, were processed in 2019, a 7% jump on the previous year.