Mid Ulster Council is set to ask the Irish Government to consider opening a passport office in the district, after a majority vote at the monthly meeting.
Branded “a nonsense” by DUP councillor Clement Cuthbertson, a motion was put to council by Sinn Fein’s Dominic Molloy who said Mid Ulster was in a prime position to cater to those with Irish passport issues across the north of the island.
Citing the huge increase in Irish passport applications from Northern Ireland since Brexit, he said an ‘Oifig na bpasanna’ in the area would also be easier reached by citizens in Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo as well as Irish citizens across Ulster.
“Mid Ulster is geographically based to take care of it,” Cllr Molloy told the Mail. “Particularly for emergency passports, when somebody needs it at short notice.
“Mid Ulster could service not only the nine counties of Ulster, but also Leitrim, Longford, Sligo.”
But DUP Cllr, Clement Cuthbertson disagreed.
He said: “This motion was used purely as yet another attempt to grandstand and abuse their majority position on council.
“To think any government would even consider setting up a passport office in Mid Ulster, never mind Stewartstown - as mooted during the meeting - is pie in the sky.”
Passed with support from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Independent Barry Monteith, Mid Ulster council will now “write to Charlie Flanagan TD as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade requesting he consider the possibility of locating a Passport Office within the Mid Ulster”.
Seconded by Cathal Mallaghan, the motion was opposed by both the UUP and DUP.
On the thinking behind the motion, Cllr Cathal Mallaghan told the Mail: “It’s in reaction to the growing demand for passport services for people in the north from the decision the UK made to exit the EU.”
Mid Ulster, he said is “a very strategic place. From Donegal down to Galway - it’s quicker to get to Mid Ulster than Dublin”.
A spokesperson for Ireland’s Department for Foreign Affairs said Irish citizens in Northern Ireland are already catered for through 70 post office branches, which “remains the most efficient and cost-effective way to apply”.
“The passport reform programme, which is well underway, will deliver further significant customer service improvements in the coming years,” they added.
“To accommodate a relatively small number of people with urgent or sudden travel needs, an appointment service is in operation in the Passport Offices in Dublin and Cork.
“The range of service options meets the current needs of passport applicants and service improvements on the way will allow the Passport Service to cope with future challenges in particular the introduction of an online application service.”