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1391. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice the number of naturalisation applications made by UK citizens in each of the years 2014 to 2020, in tabular form; the average length of time the process has taken over the same time period in tabular form; her plans to provide an expedited service for UK citizens who have lived in Ireland for a prolonged period of time, that is, for over ten years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18512/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): The information requested by the Deputy can be found in the attached spreadsheet.
All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually in accordance with the legislation. There are no provisions to apply different criteria depending on the nationality of the applicant or the length of time they have resided in the state. All applicants are required to meet minimum periods of reckonable residence and standard checks are carried out as part of the overall process to maintain its integrity.
In general, the current target is that it should take around 12 months for a standard application for a certificate of naturalisation to be processed from the date it is received to the date a decision is made. However, 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 the Immigration Service.
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.
I am conscious that 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, I was pleased to announce a temporary system that enables citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty.
My department achieved the target of communicating with 4,000 people by the end of March 2021. Around 1,200 people have received their Irish citizenship in the 10 weeks since I opened the temporary statutory declaration process. A further 1,159 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 and by the end of June, it is expected that 6,500 people will have been given the opportunity to complete their Irish citizenship.
It remains my intention that large scale ceremonies will recommence once circumstances allow. In-person 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 my recent announcement 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.

PQ 18512-21
- Applications Received Average processing time for decisions reached in Calendar Year
Year UK Nationals Total Applications UK Nationals All Decisions
2014 47 15,418 6.7 5.3
2015 73 12,656 7.1 6.8
2016 569 13,018 4.2 5.8
2017 860 11,777 5.5 7.4
2018 1233 12,867 8.8 10.4
2019 1736 12,281 10.4 11.6
2020 1071 10,138 10.8 13.5

* The average processing time where the number of applications in a category is small (as in the case of the UK in 2014 and 2015 can be skewed by a small number of applications that are more complex.