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This is how we have always done things

There’s a story in today’s Dublin Inquirer about delays in citizenship applications leading to legal action from applicants.

Here’s a quote: “A spokesperson for the Department of Justice didn’t say whether it considers policy reform based on the issues highlighted in cases it settles out of court. But they said it considers court judgments when drawing up policies.”
I doubt it. Here’s why.

Way back when the Tiger economy was still purring along, my wife applied for Irish citizenship. After filling out a very long and complicated form and supplying lots of required documentation, she got a reply, stating it would take a few years to process her application.

The letter went on to instruct her not to phone the department with any queries, as that would just push her application to the back of the queue again.

The following summer, I found myself at the Macgill summer school along with the minister for justice, and I mentioned this.
Michael McDowell, for it was he, raised his eyes to heaven and assured me that he’d heard several complaints about the curt letter, and he’d taken steps to ensure that it was no longer sent to applicants for citizenship.

Didn’t occur to him to tackle the two year delay though.

Fast forward a few years. It’s been a hectic time. The PDs no longer exist, NAMA has risen phoenix-life from the ashes of Anglo-Irish and is sowing the seeds of the next property crisis, Fine Gael are at historic levels of unbridled arrogance in government.

So one day, Alan Shatter, minister for Time Travel and Justice, announces that he had taken Decisions, and as a result, there is no longer a whopping great queue for citizenship applications, the backlog has been cleared. Kudos all round, at one of the rare bits of positive news during the austerity years.

Meanwhile, I’ve been arguing for a few years with FÁS and the Dept of Social Protection about the list of companies which have availed of the Jobbridge scheme. they’re claiming it’s commercially sensitive information, I say otherwise, I’ve supplied wodges of FOI precedents, etc.

By the time I finally hear that I’ve won the FOI appeal, they’ve even revamped citizenship with big swearing in ceremonies in the Aviva. Back in the day, you had to queue in the District Court on a Monday morning along with the lads up on charges from speeding to assault.

Anyway, I’ve got the database, I go looking for a story. And the first, obvious story to look for, is who is making the heaviest use of the Jobbridge scheme.
Step forward, Citizenship Section, Department of Justice, who hired 30 “interns” at once.

The problem, of course, is we built the citizenship unit of the civil service in 1930 or so, when the population was shrinking, not rising. We got the occasional application, but the workload required one guy, working a half-day every Tuesday.

In 2010, that was still the case.

By the way, I didn’t pick that example out of the air. The citizenship guy literally devoted half a day to it every Tuesday, and was assigned to other work the rest of the time. So he was overwhelmed, until they brought in 30 underpaid graduates to clear the backlog.

Now you’d think the lesson the civil service would take from this is that they need to assign more people to the citizenship section in the 21st century, but the story at the top of the thread suggests that no, they just hit a Reset button back to where they were in 1930.

Okay, maybe it’s more than one guy now, maybe not just a Tuesday morning shift, but the section is still understaffed.
But no, I don’t believe the anonymous department spokesperson who says they will “consider court judgments when drawing up policies”.

Justice at Dublin Castle. Image via sparkle-motion at Flickr.

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