452. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of applications for citizenship by naturalisation processed within six months from the date received to the date a decision is made for each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18611/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Deputy will be aware that the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements, not only within the State but also at European Union as well as international level. It is therefore important that appropriate procedures are in place to ensure that the integrity of the regime for granting Irish citizenship through the naturalisation process is held in high regard both at home and internationally. These procedures are continually evolving arising from, for example, service improvements due to the introduction of new technology and updated work practices.
In general, it takes around 6 months for a standard application to be processed from the date it is received to the date a decision is made. The nature of the naturalisation process is such that, for a broad range of reasons, some cases can take longer than others to process.
Specifically, the average processing time from the date an application was received on to the date a decision was made was 6.7 months in 2016, 7.2 months in 2017 and 6.5 months in 2018. Additional security checks can result in some applications taking longer than this average timescale. Such checks are fundamental to maintaining the legitimacy of the naturalisation process both nationally and internationally.
In addition, processing timescales can be impacted due to incomplete applications having to be returned, further documentation being required from the applicant, or where payment of the required certificate fee is awaited, or the applicant has not been engaging with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department. Sometimes the input of several government agencies, both within and without this jurisdiction is needed and the request and receipt of information from these sources can result in delays in processing some applications. Delays can also arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which requires to be considered. In other instances the applicant themselves may request that their application is put on hold.
The INIS Service Improvement Plan 2018-2020 commits the INIS to significant investment in technological developments including the roll-out of online forms and payments for citizenship applications. Such developments are expected to deliver significant improvements to customer experiences and processing timescales.
The final stage of a naturalisation process, after the decision making process, requires the applicant to attend at a citizenship ceremony. Obviously, the applicant does not become an Irish citizen until they attend the ceremony to make their declaration of fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the State, give an undertaking to uphold the laws of the State and to respect its democratic values and receive their certificate of naturalisation.
INIS devotes considerable resources to the processing of these applications. It also operates a dedicated phone helpline and email helpdesk available for all applicants interested in the progress of their application, details of which are available on www.inis.gov.ie.