The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, Mr. Simon Coveney, T.D., has announced that the Passport Service issued more than 400,000 Irish passports in 2020. This is around 40% of the number issued in 2019.Despite the introduction of travel restrictions both nationally and internationally in 2020, Irish citizens continued to require passports, particularly our community living overseas. The Passport Service paused operations during periods of Level 5 restrictions but continued to offer a same day service for emergencies and a weekly service for urgent adult renewals. This service was facilitated via the award winning Passport Online system.To assist with the wider State response to COVID-19, Passport Service personnel were also redeployed into other, essential public service roles, such as contact tracing for the HSE and assisting the Department of Social Protection to facilitate the processing of COVID-19 related benefits. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Passport Service staff were critical in assisting our citizens abroad.The Passport Service continued to operate its award-winning Customer Service Hub throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency. During the intial crisis, Passport Service staff were key to providing consular assistance to citizens overseas. The Customer Service Hub handled more than 117,000 chats through its WebChat service in 2020, and handled over 87,000 calls. 88% of our customers felt that we met or exceeded their expectations this year.Minister Coveney paid tribute to staff in the Passport Service:I am very proud of the dedication and commitment of colleagues across my Department. I want to thank staff in the Passport Service who adapted to the challenges of 2020 by demonstrating great flexibility and adaptability. They also demonstrated the resilience of the Passport Online system by effectively clearing any backlogs when operations resumed within 4 weeks. This is a real demonstration of the opportunities when cutting edge technology meets the innovation and flexibility of the civil service.Following the lifting of Level 5 restrictions on 1 December 2020, the Passport Service resumed processing of passport applications received through the Passport Online system.The Passport Online service is the cheapest and most convenient way to apply for a passport. It provides a user-friendly process which is available 24/7 to those seeking to renew their passports from anywhere in the world. Children's passports can also be renewed online. Applicants in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain and Europe who are applying for the first time are also eligible to use the online service.Minister Coveney reminded citizens of the advantages of using Passport Online:The online service is extremely easy to use. It has won awards for its user-friendly process, including a NALA award for the use of plain English. Passport Online is for everyone from new born babies to hundred year olds.Some applicants may not be familiar with using a computer. A friend or relative with basic computer skills can help them to apply – the process only takes ten minutes to complete.The processing of an online application is four times as fast as a paper application. In addition, the use of Passport Online can facilitate social distancing, given that a renewal application for an adult does not require the signature of a witness.