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Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK


Demand for Irish passport service

Citizens in Irish Republic can obtain British passport

As the UK struggles with a backlog of passport applications, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has issued a public demand for the Irish Government to open passport offices in Northern Ireland.

The party's chief negotiator said an Irish passport was the birthright of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland.

He believes people should not have to travel to Dublin or post offices south of the border.

Mr McGuinness pointed out people in the Irish republic could obtain a British passport in offices in Dublin and Cork.

He said: "There is no logical reason why this type of service for Irish passport holders should not be available here in the north where the demand is much greater for Irish passports than for British passports in the 26 counties."

Mr McGuinness has been pressing the Irish Government to move on the issue for some time.

[ image: Extensions will be available from Wednesday]
Extensions will be available from Wednesday
He wants to see offices initially located in Belfast and Londonderry and satellite outlets where there is demand.

"Easy access to an Irish passport should be a right, not a privilege," he said.

A spokesman for the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said he was unable to comment on the subject.

Mr McGuinness's comments come as another measure to help reduce the backlog of passport applications currently flooding offices across the UK comes into force.

Extensions to expiring passports

Free extensions of up to two years will be given to people whose passports are about to expire - or which have expired in the past five years.

BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Jon Silverman: "The aim is to help those who are travelling soon"
There are about 530,000 outstanding applications, even though new queuing arrangements and a national phone centre have been set up.

The delays have been caused by a combination of new computer technology introduced last October, and new rules requiring children and babies to have their own passports.

Home Secretary Jack Straw has admitted the service will not be back to normal before September.

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