The top civil servant at the Department of Foreign Affairs has apologised for delays affecting some areas of the passport service, and said that the last six months were the busiest in its history.

Speaking before the Public Accounts Committee, Secretary General Niall Burgess said that for the most part, the service was working well.

Latest figures show that just under half of express service applications for first time passports, or to replace lost or stolen ones, took between 21 and 40 days to process.

The remainder were dealt with between 11 and 20 working days.

The waiting time for online applications is much shorter - 90% of the more than 100,000 passport applications made online so far this year had been processed within ten working days.

For those using the express service for renewal, 80% were processed between 11 and 20 working days.

Mr Burgess told the committee that the Passport Office was unable to answer all calls from the public and apologised for that saying the phone service was not what it should be at present.

He said passports that have been applied for online are being issued within days and that all renewals are being issued on time.

He said this was an improvement on last year, despite the fact the last six months were the busiest in history.

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Politicians and passports

Mr Burgess said processing times were in line with international norms and no one at risk of missing their travel deadline had been turned away.

He also pointed to the fact that it was expected before the end of the year that renewals for children's passports would also be made available online.

Fianna Fáil's Seán Fleming said the biggest issue was with the Passport Express Service.

Mr Fleming noted that of the 100,000 first time or lost or stolen applications made through the express service this year, over half were missing the target of being dealt with within 21 working days.