Northern Ireland

Long campaign for Irish passport office in Northern Ireland falls short

Just 1% of all Irish passports are issued over the counter

Only 1% of Irish passports are issued over the counter

The Irish government has effectively ruled out a dedicated passport office in the north after revealing that only a fraction of applications are dealt with over the counter.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said a business case for a new passport office north of the border “cannot currently be made”.

The tánaiste’s statement is regarded as a major setback for the long-running campaign for a public passport counter in either Belfast or Derry.

Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP have called in the past for a dedicated passport office in the north to meet growing demand, which increased further after Brexit.

But according to the Fianna Fáil leader, who was responding to a question tabled by Sinn Féin Donegal TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, just 1% of all Irish passports are issued over the counter.

He said more than 380,000 passports had been issued so far this year, around 12% of which were for those living north of the border.

The Tanaiste said progress had been made
Foreign Affairs Minister Michaél Martin. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON

“In view of the fact that the overwhelming majority of passport applicants apply online and the considerable benefits of Passport Online for all of our citizens, the department is of the view that a business case cannot currently be made for opening an additional passport office in Northern Ireland,” the minister said.

“The Passport Service will continue to consider ways it can improve its service to all citizens regardless of where they live.”

Mr Martin also revealed that a special online passport enquiry portal for MLAs that was opened a year ago has experienced only “modest” traffic, with queries falling off significantly since peaking three months after its launch.

The portal, which enables MLAs to bring urgent cases to the attention of the Passport Service, has been used 689 times over the past year but just 40 times in the first three months of this year.

In response to Mr Mac Lochlainn’s query about the possibility of establishing a designated telephone helpline, or allowing MLAs access to the Oireachtas passport query service, the tánaiste said the “limited numbers of enquiries raised” meant there were no plans at present.

Sinn Féin chief whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn
Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

However, the Donegal representative was undeterred by the minister for foreign affair’s response, insisting “there is a real need for an Irish passport office in the north”.

“An office would improve access to services for a huge number of applicants and the Irish government must accept the clear need for people living in the north to have access to a local service during their application,” Mr Mac Lochlainn told The Irish News.

“It would also help take pressure off staff in terms of dealing with issues of delay, backlog and difficulty in obtaining information for applicants, many of whom have missed out on travelling.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said establishing a passport office in the north was “about connecting people with services”.

“It would send a powerful message to Irish citizens here that the government values them and wants to enhance its engagement,” he said.

“I think the Irish government actually understands that and we’ll keep pressing them on delivery.”