726. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice if additional staff will be assigned to the citizenship department for quick processing of citizenship applications in order that the timeframe for the making of such decisions can be improved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52255/21]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy James Browne): I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it and my Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and during all levels of public health restrictions.
However, the combined impact of the 2019 High Court judgment in the Jones case and the necessary health restrictions arising from the pandemic, has resulted in the processing time for standard applications increasing.
As a result, regrettably, there are just over 22,200 applications currently on hand. These applications are at various stages of processing, ranging from those just received, to those where a decision has been made and are "ceremony ready".
However, my Department is taking a number of steps to speed up the processing of applications.
In January, my Department opened a temporary system to enable these applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. Almost 6,200 certificates have been issued so far and a further 1,000 people will receive their certificates in the coming weeks. My Department has prioritised the oldest applications on hand and a significant number of these applicants have received their certificates since the start of the year.
A number of digitisation measures have been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including eTax clearance, eVetting and online payments. The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up more staff to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve service to our customers and reduce waiting times.
This year, we are on track to deliver approximately 11,000 decisions, significantly exceeding the levels achieved in the last two years. Additional staff have also been assigned to the citizenship team. Based on these measures, my Department's objective is to achieve an improved timeframe of 6-9 months for decisions on a majority of applications during 2022.
I am also pleased to confirm that, subject to public health guidelines, my Department intends to host an in-person citizenship ceremony on 13 December in Killarney - the first since the pandemic began in March 2020.