Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for Justice the number of Irish citizenship applicants currently waiting longer than 12 months for a decision on their application; and the number of citizenship applicants currently waiting longer than 24 months for a decision on their application. [48178/21]
535. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for Justice the average waiting time for citizenship applications to date in 2021. [48179/21]
536. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for Justice the number of citizenship applicants her Department plans to communicate a decision to in 2021. [48180/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): I propose to take Questions Nos. 534 to 536, inclusive, together.
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 at all levels of public health restrictions. However, the combined impact of the 2019 High Court judgment in the Jones case and the necessary health and safety related restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 disruption and the inability to hold in person ceremonies during this time, has resulted in the processing timeline for standard applications increasing.
As a result, regrettably, the current average processing time for applications is 23 months and 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".
As of 1 October 2021, the number of applicants waiting for more than 12 months is 8,742; and the number of applicants waiting more than 24 months is 6,437.
Aside from these specific issues, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process. Processing timescales can be impacted by incomplete applications having to be returned; further documentation being required from the applicant; where the payment of the required certificate fee is awaited; or if the applicant has not been engaging with my Department.
In some instances, the input of several Government agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction is needed and the request and receipt of information from these sources can result in delays in processing some applications. Issues can also arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which is required to be considered before a final decision is taken.
For applicants that were in the final stages of processing, in January, my Department opened a temporary system to enable these applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. Since then, my Department has delivered on its commitment to communicate with 6,500 applicants by the end of June, inviting them to complete the final steps required prior to the granting of a certificate of naturalisation.
Almost 6,200 certificates of naturalisation have been issued so far this year and a further 1,000 people have paid the statutory fee and will receive their certificates in the coming weeks. The Citizenship Division of my Department has prioritised bringing the oldest applications on hand to conclusion and a significant number of these applicants have received their certificates of naturalisation since the introduction of the temporary process.
My Department intends to communicate with approximately 11,000 applicants up to the end of this year, in the context of issuing a decision on their applications. As the Deputy will appreciate, when an approval letter issues to an applicant there are certain administrative and financial commitments required of the applicant prior to the issuing of a naturalisation certificate. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 cases where approval letters have issued but the applicant has yet to respond.