223. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice if applications for citizenship are being processed during level 5 restrictions. [10661/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I can confirm that the Citizenship Division of the Immigration Service of my Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
I accept that there is a significant delay in the processing of applications for citizenship. However, a number of issues have impacted on the processing of citizenship applications over the past 15 months. A High Court case, which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal, resulted in significant delays.
As well as this, a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in-person ceremonies during Covid-19 and the restrictions on staff attending the office. The combined impact of the Jones judgment and the Covid-19 disruption has resulted in the loss of over six months’ processing time. As a result, the processing timeline for standard applications has increased to 12 months.
In order to help in dealing with the backlog, and in particular those applicants that were ceremony ready, I was pleased to announce last month that a temporary system is now in place that will enable citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty to the State. This signed statutory declaration replaces the requirement for citizenship applicants to attend citizenship ceremonies, which have been temporarily suspended during Covid-19.
The new system is in place from 18 January 2021, and the Citizenship Division will communicate directly with applicants regarding the requirements, on a phased basis over the next few months until in-person citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence. As of this week, 2,000 applicants have been communicated with, of whom 900 have reverted and 600 certificates of naturalisation have issued. Its intended that in total 4,000 applicants will be communicated with by the end of March.