There have been calls for the passport office to open seven days a week to tackle what has been described as a “passport emergency”.
As the country reopens and families rush to book foreign summer holidays, the passport office is set to be flooded with up to 1.7 million applications in the coming weeks and months.
There has already been a massive surge in applications since the Government announced the easing of most Covid restrictions last week.
The issue has been exacerbated by the fact the passport office was closed to all but urgent applications for long periods during the pandemic and there is now a backlog of 113,000 in the system.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has confirmed the previous highest annual total for passports issued was one million, but such is the pent-up demand for travel, this figure will be dwarfed in 2022.
In an attempt to cope with the deluge, the service is currently recruiting 300 additional staff, to bring the total number of workers to 775 by the end of the month. It is hoped this will be bolstered further, to 900 workers, by late March.
Fine Gael senator Garret Ahearn, who raised the matter in the Seanad, said: “We should look at a roster system for a full seven-day period rather than five.
This needs to be treated as an emergency over the next number of months to make sure that everyone who wants a passport to support the aviation industry, to support the travel agencies and to get back to normality gets that passport.
“There’s huge excitement with the country reopening and part of that excitement is people looking forward to the summer and the opportunity to travel in the summertime. We are going in the next number of weeks to be inundated as public representatives about passports. If we thought it was bad a couple of months ago, the next number of months are going to skyrocket.”
Raising his personal experience, he told the Seanad: “At the weekend I went to apply for a passport for my son, his first passport, he’s two. I went into the pharmacy to get a picture and there was a queue in the pharmacy of people getting pictures, predominantly for young kids. I left there and went to the garda station to sign the consent as a guardian with my wife and the guard said that they have been inundated with people looking for passports, and then I went to the post office and the exact same conversation happened.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “Significant numbers of additional staff are being assigned to the Passport Service in January, February and March. The additional staff will help to reduce turnaround times and to respond to the current and anticipated high demand for first-time and renewal passports in 2022.”