| 9.9°C Belfast

833 Irish passport applications from NI in a day

The rush for Irish citizenship and passports by people in Northern Ireland reached a record high in the days leading up to the signing of Article 50.

The document signed by Prime Minister Theresa May on March 28 paves the way for Britain's exit from the European Union.

As talks between the government and EU get under way today, new figures show that as momentum built towards Mrs May triggering Article 50, there were a record 833 Irish passport applications from Northern Ireland on March 23.

Other Brexit milestones coincided with spikes in applications for Irish passports in the first quarter.

On January 16, the pound hit its lowest level for more than three months as speculation intensified that Mrs May's would signal a 'hard Brexit' in a landmark speech the following day.

According to the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs, there were 796 applications from Northern Ireland on that day.

The third highest figure for the quarter was 725 on March 28 - the day Mrs May actually signed the letter to trigger Article 50.

The Irish embassy in London was also snowed under with applications during this period.

Days before the peak on March 21, a senior embassy official in London, Donal O'Connell, stated in an email that "urgent sanction" was required from headquarters for paid overtime to deal with the backlog, pointing out that the embassy had "over 1,700 unopened emails requiring attention".

The documents released give no hint as to the motivation of the thousands seeking Irish citizenship, though the prospect of avoiding long customs queues at Mediterranean airports after Brexit may be a factor.

The surge in Irish passports from those living here has prompted Dublin to seek consultants to forecast the likely demand as the UK's exit from the EU nears.

However, the 8,297 passports sought during the month of March may represent only a trickle compared to when 'Brexit' comes into force as it has been estimated that there are 6.7m in Great Britain and Northern Ireland who are eligible to apply for an Irish passport.

To deal with increased demand for Irish passports, Dublin spent €196,912 (£172,125) on overtime for the first four months of this year.

Belfast Telegraph