141. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice when the resumption and progression to decision on all naturalisation applications currently waitlisted will occur; when the return of original documentation is expected on these applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51709/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it and my Department continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and during all levels of public health restrictions.
Under normal circumstances, passports are returned approximately 10 days after their receipt. However, limits on staff attendance in the office due to COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in delays in the return of some passports. However, is a requirement of the naturalisation process that a current passport must accompany every application. The identity of every applicant must be confirmed to the greatest extent possible and a passport is a primary identifier.
At this time applicants are advised not to send in their application during the pandemic if they anticipate that they may have to travel at short notice. However, I fully appreciate that people may have to travel at short notice for emergency reasons or require their passports for official reasons. In these circumstances, applicants should email the citizenship helpdesk at email@example.com with the relevant details. Any request must be accompanied by appropriate scanned supporting material, for example, in the case of travel, detailing the reasons for travel, such as medical information. Any request of this nature is dealt with promptly.
Currently, there are just over 22,200 applications currently on hand. These applications are at various stages of processing, ranging from those just received, to those where a decision has been made and are "ceremony ready", and 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. Almost 6,200 certificates have been issued so far and a further 1,000 people will receive their certificates in the coming weeks. 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 also 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.
I am also pleased to confirm that, subject to public health guidelines, my Department intends to host an in-person citizenship ceremony on 13 December in Killarney - the first since the pandemic began in March 2020.