herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Misery of waiting game for families caught in middle

THE waiting game continued today for five plucky people who staged the latest sit-in at the Dublin passport offices on Molesworth Street.

The group, including two couples seeking passports on behalf of their children, brought their situation to the national airwaves when they spoke on Joe Duffy's Liveline yesterday.

They then refused to leave the offices after closing time at 4pm in protest at what they claimed was conflicting information from staff who are currently taking industrial action.

The situation was eventually defused shortly after 6pm when Director of Passport Services Joseph Nugent intervened and offered to look into each individual application.



Flooding

He told the Herald: "The situation is that there are no passport production facilities in this office at present."

Due to a flooding situation last week, passports can no longer be processed in Molesworth Street and are being dealt with at the depot in Balbriggan. The industrial action means that there is now a 20-working-days waiting time for passports, with a current backlog of 40,000.

And yesterday, anxious would-be travellers flocked to the office, leading to queues which snaked halfway down the length of Molesworth Street.

Employees on industrial action have been warned by the Department of Foreign Affairs that they will not be paid if they refuse to carry out duties within their grade.

Mullingar woman Fiona Lynch and her partner JJ McNamee, will this afternoon travel to the passport buildings in Balbriggan in a bid to collect a passport for their 15-month-old son Seamus. They are due to travel to the US on Thursday and say the cost of their holiday, including flights, hotels and car hire, is in the region of €3,500.

JJ and Fiona, who is pregnant, had submitted their son's application on February 25. Last Friday, they were told the new passport would not be delivered until March 29 or later. Fearful of losing the hefty sum they paid for their holiday, they returned to the passport office yesterday in the hope of paying for an express application but were told this wasn't possible.

An angry Fiona pointed out: "Who is going to reimburse me for this holiday? The country is in a mess, everyone has to take a cut, but why should they get paid in this office for not doing their job?"

Meanwhile, for Rialto woman Kerry Kavanagh it was due to be her first bite out of the Big Apple but the long-awaited trip almost didn't happen. The 22-year-old splashed out on a Christmas present for her mum Jackie when she booked a five-day trip to New York and they were due to jet off along with their cousins tomorrow

Mindful of industrial action, Kerry submitted her passport application in person on March 3 and was told she would receive it by March 12.

She revealed: "I got off work early on Thursday to come in here and I stayed until it closed. I spoke to a woman who said the passport had been posted out to me, but then I rang the post office and as there was no tracking order they couldn't find it so it obviously got lost."

Determined to get on her flight, she returned to the office on Friday, but without luck. Yesterday morning, she was back bright and early.

As the clock ticked towards 4.30pm, lady luck finally smiled on her when an official beckoned her to the counter before handing over the distinctive maroon booklet.

Among those left behind was Donegal woman Fiona Carr. Her flight to her holiday destination in Tenerife took off today -- without her on board. A devastated Fiona revealed how she got up at 5am yesterday and took a four-hour bus journey from Letterkenny to Dublin. Yet her efforts were in vain, as she was told her passport would not be available for collection yesterday.



Heartbreaking

Disgusted with the service, she insisted: "I was born in England so I'm going to apply for a British passport now. I don't understand why they were sending out a message that the passport express takes 10 days or 15 days, because it's not true.

She and her two children aged five and nine were due to jet off to Tenerife today, having paid in excess of €2,000 for the holiday. Tragically, it's not Fiona's first difficult dealing with the Department of Foreign Affairs. In January last year, she suffered the heartbreaking loss of her 17-year-old daughter Aoife, who took ill while on holiday in Turkey.

Fiona revealed she was appalled by the lack of support the family received from the authorities, and they were left without help as they organised an air ambulance in order to bring Aoife home before she passed away in hospital in Donegal.

Today's trip to Tenerife was to have been the first holiday since their terrible bereavement.

As the day wore on, there were a number of angry scenes at the office counters as frustrated customers attempted to ascertain the whereabouts of their precious documents.

However, Dublin woman Liz Connolly and her four-month-old daughter Evanna were taking it all in their stride.

Liz revealed: "We're heading to Malaga on Saturday for a family holiday: myself, my husband and our four kids so I applied for passports for all of us on March 3. They said to come back on Friday, so hopefully it'll work out."

A return to the office is also inevitable for Grace Lumauig. Originally from the Philippines, she has been living in Ireland for almost nine years and is currently waiting to take possession of her first Irish passport.

She said: "I was told it would be ready today and they said it's coming in from the office in Balbriggan."

Unfortunately for Grace, the passport didn't arrive, meaning that she'll be back again this afternoon for another long wait.

afinneran@herald.ie

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