Dáil Éireann - Volume 626 - 25 October, 2006

Written Answers. - Departmental Offices.

Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on locating a passport office for the western region in County Mayo, particularly with the success of the regional airport. [34774/06]

  Mr. D. Ahern: While there are no plans at present to open further passport offices, it is the policy to keep the operation of the passport service under on-going review.

As background, I should say that the majority of passports are now issued through the Passport Express service which is operated jointly by my Department and An Post. This service is available in over 1,000 post offices throughout the State. Overall, more than 90% of all passports are processed within 10 working days.

In response to the ever increasing demand for passports in recent years, as well as requirements for higher security standards, and a commitment to offer our citizens the most effective possible service, the passport issuing system has been going through a process of modernisation and upgrading. A new Automated Passport System was introduced in late 2004, in the new Passport Production facility in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin, followed by the main Passport Office in Molesworth Street in January 2005. The system was extended to the Cork and London Passport Offices in late 2005 and to all our Missions abroad during 2005 and 2006. Our new passport booklet is one of the most secure in the world and has been widely admired.

The ePassport was launched on 16 October 2006 and represents the final phase of the project to update the passport issuing process to ensure that Irish passports meet the highest international standards, in particular with regard to security features. It will also ensure that Irish citizens can continue to avail of visa free travel to the United States.

The Department is also working on developing online facilities to enable applicants to track the progress of their application over the internet. This facility will be available imminently.

Question No. 208 answered with Question No. 123.

Question No. 209 answered with Question No. 110.

Questions Nos. 210 and 211 answered with Question No. 109.

Question No. 212 answered with Question No. 103.