Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the delays in processing citizenship applications, which are taking in some instances in which all paper work is submitted and in order, longer than the three years which is allowed for processing; his plans to take action to reduce the waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21463/19]
298. Deputy Noel Rock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the long delays with regard to citizenship applications; if there is a lack of staff to deal with the number of applications; the action he will take to reduce the waiting times on applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21881/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 286 and 298 together.
The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually in accordance with the provisions of the Act. A determination on whether an applicant satisfies the statutory criteria attendant to naturalisation can only be made after an application is received. The nature of the naturalisation process is such that, for a broad range of reasons, some cases can take longer than others to process. In some instances, completing the necessary checks may take a considerable period of time. Where a decision is made, the certificate cannot be issued until the applicant attends a citizenship ceremony arranged for the purpose of swearing the oath of allegiance before a judge.
Processing timescales can often be impacted due to further documentation being required from the applicant, or payment of the required certificate fee being awaited, or the applicant not engaging with the office. In some instances, the applicant themselves may request that a hold be put on their application, for example, where they may have returned to their country of origin for a prolonged period, to facilitate them in making arrangements to return to reside in the State, or where they have difficulty in obtaining satisfactory evidence of their identity or nationality. In other instances issues can arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which requires to be considered before a final decision is taken.
Accordingly, the nature of the naturalisation process is such that, for a broad range of reasons, some cases can take longer than others to process and thus an average wait time for applications is not a meaningful measure. However, I can say that in general, it takes around 6 months for a standard application to be processed from the date it is received to the date a decision is made. These processing timescales are being maintained notwithstanding an increase in application numbers over the past year.
The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements, not only within the State but also at European Union as well as international level. It is therefore important that appropriate procedures are in place to ensure that the integrity of the regime for granting Irish citizenship through the naturalisation process is held in high regard both at home and internationally.
It is recognised that the naturalisation application process is a complex one which requires a considerable amount of supporting documentation but this is necessarily the case given the honour of being granted Irish citizenship and the significant benefits attendant to securing an Irish passport, particularly in the context of visa free travel to other jurisdictions.
The Deputy will be aware of the wide ranging Transformation Programme currently under way in my Department. The INIS Service Improvement Plan 2018-2020 dovetails with this programme and commits the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department to significant investment in technological developments including the roll-out of online forms and payments for citizenship applications as well as streamlining of processes and procedures. Such developments are expected to deliver significant improvements to customer experiences.
INIS devotes a considerable amount of its overall resources to the processing of these cases. It also operates a dedicated phone helpline and email helpdesk available for all applicants to enable queries to be dealt with, including the progress of their application. Details are available on the INIS website at www.inis.gov.ie