400,000 Irish passports are sent north in last decade
Over 400,000 people in Northern Ireland have claimed Irish passports in the 10 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
Nationalist politicians said the figure showed large numbers of people were benefiting from the recognition of the Irish identify enshrined in the Agreement.
The new data from the Irish government showed 402,658 people from Northern Ireland have taken Irish passports or renewed their existing ones since April 1998.
The Good Friday Agreement recognises the right of those born in Northern Ireland to hold British and Irish citizenship.
SDLP Assembly member for Mid Ulster Patsy McGlone who obtained the figures from the Dail said: "There are clearly a large and growing number of people in the North who want to take advantage of their right to an Irish passport.
"It does seem that people believe the Irish passport is popular and safe to travel on.
"Pensioners are also taking advantage of the free Irish passports available to them.
"But people are obviously increasingly comfortable with and confident in taking advantage of this."
Mr McGlone also claimed he was aware of instances where people from a unionist background had claimed Irish passports, because Ireland's traditional neutrality made it a safer passport to travel on.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said: "Some 400,000 passports have been issued, since the signing of the Good Friday agreement on 10 April, 1998, to applicants born in Northern Ireland.
"Such applications have been increasing year on year, with some 60,000 passports issuing to persons born in Northern Ireland in 2007 compared to some 30,000 in 2002.
"The majority of Northern Ireland applications are made using the Northern Ireland Express Post Service (NIPX) which is available in some 70 Post Offices throughout the area."
SDLP South Down Assembly Member PJ Bradley described the figures as staggering and called for a permanent Irish passport office to be opened in Northern Ireland.
"Those of us that campaigned in the past for Irish passports to be equally available across the island and to the diaspora overseas did envisage a steady uptake, but the figures released in a reply to a question put in Dail Eireann are well beyond our greatest expectations," he said.
"The figures are bound to add weight to the SDLP's request to have an Irish Passport Office located in a convenient location north of the border.
"I am quite certain that the trend will continue as future generations will emulate the example which is being shown by today's generation."