Leading article

Strong case for Irish passport office in north

Evidence, if it were needed, of the increased demand for Irish passports ahead of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, can be found in the fact that some post offices in Northern Ireland have run out of application forms.

A number of post offices put up signs saying it could be the end of February before they receive new stock, which cannot be viewed as an acceptable situation.

Among the outlets affected is the main Belfast city centre post office in Bridge Street.

Printing additional forms should not be an insurmountable problem and yesterday the Republic's department of foreign affairs confirmed that new forms have been dispatched and stocks should be replenished within days.

However, the fact that there are shortages at all will reinforce calls for the Irish government to open an office in the north to deal with the number of people applying for an Irish passport.

The demand is clearly there.

Irish government figures show nearly 85,000 people from Northern Ireland applied for passports in 2018, which represented a two per cent increase on the previous year.

The number of applications has grown since the Brexit referendum result in June 2016 and demand is likely to intensify as the deadline approaches for withdrawal on March 29.

The absence of an agreed arrangement for dealing with the immediate aftermath of Brexit and fears of a no-deal will add to the sense of concern many people have about the months ahead.

While the Irish government has correctly pointed out that anyone wishing to renew their passport can do so online, there are plainly large numbers of people applying for the first time for whom additional support would be appreciated.

As well as a practical purpose, a passport office would have a symbolic role, sending out an important message from the Irish government to Irish citizens in the north in what are uncertain political times.

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