519. Deputy Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Justice the current average processing times for applications for citizenship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [54083/21]


Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): 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.
Regrettably, the current average processing time for applications is 23 months and there are just over 22,200 applications on hand 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. Since the introduction of the temporary system, 8,196 citizenship applicants have been contacted and 7,405 new Irish citizens have received their certificates of naturalisation. 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.
Subject to public health guidelines, my Department also intends to host an in-person citizenship ceremony on 13 December in Killarney - the first since the pandemic began in March 2020.