Brexit: Northern Ireland demand for Irish passports in first months of 2019 to outstrip full year totals
DEMAND for Irish passports in Northern Ireland during the first three months of 2019 is set to outstrip entire year totals prior to the Brexit referendum.
A total of 34,669 Irish passport applications were made by people in the north in January and February this year, new figures reveal.
This nearly matches the number of applications for the whole of 2011 when the Passport Office received 35,483 requests.
Application numbers from Northern Ireland residents have more than doubled since then, with 84,855 sent off last year.
The figure is a surge of almost a quarter from the 68,270 applications in 2016, when the UK held its referendum on whether to leave the European Union.
The latest statistics were obtained from the Republic's foreign affairs department by SDLP assembly member Sinéad Bradley following a letter to Tánaiste Simon Coveney.
Irish passport applications received by the Passport Service from people resident in Northern Ireland have increased year-on-year since 2011.
Last year's figure was almost 31,000 more than the number of applications in 2015, the year before the EU referendum.
Ms Bradley said her office has experienced a huge increase in constituents enquiring about Irish passport applications.
She suggested that Irish passport application figures could be used to "indicate any change in public mood on the whole issue of self-determination" and the decision on when to have a border poll.
"The increasing numbers of people from Northern Ireland applying for an Irish passport are significant but not surprising," she said.
"No matter how you dissect the figures it cannot be denied that more and more people are leaning closer into their Irish and European identity amidst the chaos of Brexit.
"Through their guardianship of the Good Friday Agreement it is incumbent on the Irish and British governments to closely monitor trends that may throw light on public mood. I believe this is one such measure that cannot be overlooked."
The MLA called for an Irish passport office to be opened in the north.
"The SDLP has always been committed to the European project and through my late father PJ Bradley MLA delivered the access to Irish passport facilities via Post Offices here in the north," she said.
"We remain committed and will aim to extend ease of access to passport applications while closely monitoring uptake."
Earlier this month, the Passport Service said it overall received more than 230,000 applications to date in 2019 – a 30 per cent increase on the same period in 2018.
At the time Mr Coveney said: "Given the demand we are experiencing significant extra resources have been given to the passport service including hundreds of extra staff for processing and customer service."