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Council rubber stamps Irish Passport office

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

MID-ULSTER Council will write to the Irish government enquiring about the possibility of locating an Irish Passport Office in the district.

Nationalist members of the Council voted in favour of the motion put forward by Sinn Fein's Dominic Molloy, with unionists voting against.

The motion was passed by a majority of members present.

While Cllr Molloy stated his belief such a move would be a "progressive, groundbreaking development for Mid-Ulster", DUP Councillor Clement Cuthbertson described it as "another silly motion".

Introducing the motion, which called for the Council to write to Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan suggesting the locating of a passport office locally due to the recent growth in applications for Irish passports, Cllr Molloy said: "Every week, I, like many of my fellow Councillors, witness anything from 10 to 20 applications for Irish passports and passport renewals.

"Emergency appointments for those in need of a passport or a renewal at short notice are limited and at peak times can be extremely difficult to obtain.

"Much has been made of the surge in Irish passport applications post Brexit vote. The decision awakened many to take advantage of the option open to all those born in the north to avail of Irish citizenship, a birth right constitutionally guaranteed under the Good Friday agreement."

Stressing his support for the motion, the SDLP's Malachy Quinn called for a meeting to be held with Charlie Flanagan, noting a previous request to do so had been ignored.

He said: "Last year the SDLP had an amendment [to a motion] that this Council meet with the Irish Government and now, with the real threat of a hard border looming over us, it's more important than ever that this council pushes for this meeting.

“I read the letter from the Irish Foreign Minister and sadly there was no mention of a meeting with this council.

"It's imperative our officers fast track a meeting with Charlie Flanagan as a matter of urgency."

The DUP's Paul McLean, referring to the greater number of nationalist Councillors than unionists, prior to his general comments, said: "It's not hard to know what way the votes are going to go, so I'm not going to waste much time.

Cllr McLean then stated it was his understanding you could apply online and suggested Cllr Walter Cuddy, who runs a post office in Dungannon, would also be happy to help applicants.

He further said: "I'm glad to hear members are now accepting the result of the Brexit vote, and the Irish government are not interested in Mid-Ulster, that's why they haven't come over for a meeting."

The motion was also backed by independent republican member Barry Monteith, who said it was his understanding a review is ongoing in passport provision in the Republic of Ireland, saying: "We could be pushing at an open door."

However, Cllr Cuthbertson took a different view, calling it "another silly motion coming before the Council for grandstanding purposes".

Ulster Unionist member Walter Cuddy said that "with technology moving forward, there's going to be less people involved in passports. In reality,everything like this is being centralised.

"There's no real mileage in it, apart from winning a vote tonight. If there's ever going to be one, it's certainly not going to be in Mid-Ulster. We don't see any future in this at all."

Councillor John McNamee of Sinn Fein stated that you can't apply for an Irish passport online.

Closing the debate, Cllr Molloy stated his motion was "not about grandstanding", saying it "directly affects the citizens of this district".

The motion was then passed by a majority of Councillors present.

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