COVID contact tracers are to be transferred to new roles with the Passport Service, the HSE has confirmed.
The health service said there has been a significant fall in the need for contact tracing and COVID testing with many staff due to finish their contracts at the end of this month.
It said it would maintain its contact tracing centres in Dublin and Cork but is planning to close the centres in Limerick and Galway on June 30th.
Staff at the Limerick centres are being offered the opportunity to work at a call centre responding to passport queries from the start of July.
The move is expected to free up Passport Service staff for processing passport applications.
Meanwhile staff in Galway are being offered the chance to work with people who have fled to Ireland from the war In Ukraine.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, travel expert Eoghan Corry said there are more than 190,000 applications in the system waiting to be processed.
He said the online system is running “very smoothly” – especially for basic renewals.
The delays are related to more “complicated” applications.
“Complicated can mean children, complicated can mean someone who has allowed their passport to expire by more than five years – and there are a few of them since COVID, like the people who travel every three years or so.
“Complicated means all of that paperwork that comes with the first-time passport.”
He reminded anyone who has recently welcomed a child into the world that you don’t need to wait for a PPS number to apply.
“You can start to apply as soon as your baby is born. That is a really important piece of advice that needs to be reiterated again and again.”
Mr Corry said the passport backlog is “complicated by the fact that 40% of applications are being returned”.
“Where is the problem? Finding the Garda who witnessed the documents when he has been transferred or promoted when phone calls are being made to Garda station when they are not on duty.
“The talks to sort that out have taken place last week and we have promised that all of that will improve.”
On the show last week, the head of the Passport Service Siobhan Byrne said a new system has been put in place to allow Garda Management to process queries when the witnessing garda can’t be located.
She said Passport applications containing errors are no longer being sent back to the start of the queue – and the service is doubling the number of staff members answering calls in its customer service hub.
Mr Corry said 40% of applications in the system are classed as “incomplete”.
“That is 78,000 applications,” he said. “That is the population of Kilkenny in the system that were incomplete.
“If people are that incapable of filling out forms that 40% of them would get it wrong long-term, we are going to have to look at that.”
Ms Byrne has also revealed her top tips to help people speed up their applications.
You can listen back to Eoghan Corry here: