88. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Justice the number of citizenship applications outstanding for longer than 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51504/21]


Deputy James Browne: I thank the Deputy for raising the important matter of the number of citizenship applications outstanding for longer than 12 months. I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it. 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. As a result, regrettably, there are just over 22,200 applications currently on hand, reduced from a high of more than 25,000 applications. This includes 14,800 applicants who have been in the system for more than 12 months. These applications are at various stages of processing, ranging from those that have just been received to those on which a decision has been made and that are ceremony-ready.
My Department is taking a number of steps to speed up the processing of applications. In January, it opened a temporary system to enable 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. Several digitisation measures have been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including e-tax clearance, e-vetting 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 to reduce waiting times.
This year, we are on track to deliver approximately 11,000 decisions, significantly exceeding the levels achieved in the past two years. Additional staff have been assigned to the citizenship team. Based on these measures, my Department's objective is to achieve an improved timeframe of six to nine months for decisions in a majority of applications by 2022. I am 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 such ceremony since the pandemic began in March 2020.