661. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice her views on the expedition of citizenship applications for non-national frontline healthcare workers; the actions she has taken to date to implement such a policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24585/21]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): I recognise and acknowledge the crucial role frontline workers are continuing to play in responding to the threat of COVID-19. They work in a challenging environment and deal with vulnerable people on a daily basis. Their exceptional commitment has been particularly clear throughout the pandemic, during which they have been playing a key role in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually inaccordance with legislation. There are no provisions to apply different criteria depending on the category of employment of the applicant. All applicants are required to meet minimumperiods of reckonable residence and standard checks are carried out as part of the overall process to maintain its integrity.
A significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during COVID-19. On 18 January 2021, a temporary system that enables applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty was opened. Approximately 1,708 people have received their Irish citizenship since then including a significant number of healthcare and other frontline workers. A further 1,057 people have returned their signed statutory declarations and the Immigration Service will be sending them their certificates of naturalisation in the coming weeks.
It has also been decided to extend the statutory declaration process to a further 2,500 people by the end of June. At that point, we will have communicated with all those that were recorded, as at 30 December 2020, as having been in the system 24 months or more and 6,500 people, including a significant number of healthcare and other frontline workers, will have been given the opportunity to complete their Irish citizenship. Those receiving a communication from my Department are being invited to complete the final steps required prior to the granting of a certificate of naturalisation.
In-person citizenship ceremonies have been provisionally scheduled to resume in December 2021, subject to the safety of all involved being assured.
Plans for the digitalisation of the naturalisation process are well advanced, in line with the plan to significantly modernise the Justice Sector through increased digital and ICT investment. The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up additional resources to focus on enhanced customer service delivery, ensuring the integrity of the process is protected and processing applications in a timely and efficient manner.