Gript –  John McGuirk –

Confiscation is not the official term, of course, but what’s a better word for this carry on?

PARENTS WHO HAD to submit their own passports as part of the application for their child to get a passport may have to wait as long as six months to receive their own back.

Furthermore, anyone who had to submit additional documentation as part of their passport application process may not have these documents returned to them at present, with the exception of emergency circumstances.

This is because the Passport Service has paused most of its operations in line with Level 5 restrictions currently in place in Ireland since late December.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said that it will not resume operations until restrictions are eased, and this means it cannot retrieve these documents until then.

There is, of course, no good health-related reason for the passport office to have suspended operations during a level five lockdown. There are lots of similar institutions which have not. For example, my own drivers licence had to be renewed last month, and going to the local Drivers Licence office in Nenagh was fairly straightforward. The two bodies do basically the same thing: You fill in various forms, supply them with photographs, and they hand you back a document. In the case of the driving licence, they had strict occupancy limits for their office – make an appointment, one person in at a time, that sort of a thing – but were otherwise operating normally. So what possible reason is there that the passport office couldn’t do the same?

It’s not just the drivers licences, either. Have any of you had any problems, for example, paying your motor tax? Motor tax offices are working just fine at present. Why can they be open, but the passport office closed?

There is no good reason, is the answer. What we all know, though nobody will officially admit, is that the passport office is closed because the Government cannot ban travel, but wants to make it as difficult as possible. And one way to make it as difficult as possible is to, without any warning, or basis in law, confiscate passports from people who were unlucky enough to have theirs up for renewal at this present time. It’s the kind of thing you see in banana republics, not in modern democracies.

If the Government wants to make travelling out of the state illegal, then it has the power, probably, to do that. It could man the border with Northern Ireland. It could close the airports and ports to passenger traffic. It could make going on holiday an actual crime.

But all of those things would take money and resources. And there would probably, swiftly, be horror stories of people prevented from travelling for very good reason – a child who needs medical treatment, a son or a daughter in trouble overseas. That sort of thing.

So, as it is, what the Government has decided to do (and make no mistake, somebody made this decision) is confiscate as many passports as possible, and use the level 5 lockdown as an excuse to say the passport office is not working.

This is – without wanting to be a hysteric about it – a pretty despicable thing for Government to do. Like most despicable things that Governments do, it’s done quietly, and it only affects a small minority. Those who complain about it are immediately subject to inquisition – but what possible reason could you have for wanting a passport during lockdown, you’re not planning to…. travel, are you??

In the face of that kind of inquisition, most people will just curse their luck, keep their heads down, and say nothing. But they’re being penalised, remember, for committing no crime, and intending to commit no crime. It is not illegal to leave the state. Properly, you should quarantine for two weeks on your return to the state, but it is not illegal to leave.

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