1417. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice the status of applications for citizenship (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19066/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are examined individually and assessed on their own merits. It is recognised that all applicants for citizenship would wish to have a decision on their application without delay. The nature of the naturalisation process is such that, for a broad range of reasons, some cases take longer than others to process. In some instances, completing the necessary checks can take a considerable period of time. It is not possible therefore, to provide a more definite time frame.
Nor is it possible to say what the remaining processing time is for applications at an advanced stage or the number that were granted in the last year. The status of an application changes as it moves through the process. Any figures provided would only represent a point in time and would not reflect the work still to be completed, which varies for each individual application.
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 Citizenship division will be sending them their certificates of naturalisation in the coming weeks.
It has 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 also well advanced, in line with my recent announcement to significantly modernise the Justice Sector through increased digital and ICT investment. This is a key commitment in Justice Plan 2021.
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.