Last week in the Seanad, I raised the delay in passport processing and the importance of applying Online rather than using the Passport Express system.
I wish to comment on the Passport Office and passport services. I acknowledge the pressure the services and staff are under who are liaising with ourselves and the general public with regard to pressures within the system. There is of course pent-up demand for passports, and delays due to Covid-19. Covid-19 meant people were not travelling but they are now. We always support Ireland as the venue of choice and people to staycation. We have to acknowledge as well that people wish to go abroad for a break with family or with mates. Sometimes it is planned for months, sometimes it might be a spur of the moment, and sometimes it is an emergency, it might be for a funeral or to support a loved one abroad who has illness or whatever. The passport is so necessary, and there must be a better way than what we have at the moment in terms of the pressures, the frustration and upset, and the postponements and costs that families are incurring. If ever there was a misnomer it is “Passport Express” because eight to ten weeks is not express. Using that word might give people the view that that is the best way to go. It is not. Online is the best way to go. Online is the quickest and most efficient way to apply. That is not to say that there are not sometimes delays but they can be more quickly sorted online.
The Department of Foreign Affairs needs to introduce a system of notification of time-to-renew one’s passport say six months or a year in advance, by text or email. Elderly people who may not be tech-savvy could nominate a family member to receive such a notification. It should not be outside the bounds of modern technology to be able to do that. Airlines could step up also. It might not be in their interests but there should be somewhere when one is booking a flight to tick one has checked one’s passport or what the expiry date of one’s passport is.
Reminders should be provided because, unfortunately, too many people only remember to check the expiry date a few days or maybe a week before their flight, only to find it has passed. Then panic sets in, phone calls are made and blood pressure rises. The consequences of that are huge. There needs to be a better system in place. Yes, Covid has caused the backlog we have at the moment, but we must also move away from the paper system and provide supports, possibly in the form of sub-offices, for those elderly people who may not be tech savvy. There needs to be a better system. I urge the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government to look at those alternatives. We could also look at additional passport offices, including in the west, such as in Galway, for example, and in Northern Ireland. There are actions that can be taken to expedite the process and solve some of the delays we are having.