Irish passport

An Irish passport is the passport issued to citizens of Ireland. An Irish passport enables the bearer to travel internationally and serves as evidence of Irish nationality and citizenship of the European Union. It also facilitates the access to consular assistance from both Irish embassies and any embassy from other European Union member states while abroad.

Irish Passport
Pas na hÉireann
The front cover of a contemporary Irish biometric passport booklet
Issued by Ireland
First issued1 October 2006[1] (first biometric passport)
3 October 2013[1] (current version)
2 October 2015[2] (passport card)
EligibilityIrish citizens
ExpirationBooklet: 10 years for adults, 5 years for children
Card: 5 years or validity of holder's passport booklet, whichever is shorter

Irish passports are issued by the Passport Office, a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. All Irish passports have been biometric since 2006. In 2015, the Irish government introduced the Passport Card, which enables Irish citizens who already possess a passport, to travel throughout the European Economic Area and Switzerland. An Irish Passport Card is intended for travel and identification purposes and functions similarly to a European national identity card.

Both Irish passports and Irish passport cards allow Irish citizens to travel, live, and work without restriction in any country within the European Economic Area, Switzerland and the Common Travel Area. Irish citizens have visa-free or visa on arrival access to 185 countries and territories; the international access available to Irish citizens ranks 6th in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index.


The Irish Free State was created in 1922 as a dominion of the British Commonwealth, modelled explicitly on the Dominion of Canada. At the time dominion status was a limited form of independence and while the Free State Constitution referred to "citizens of the Irish Free State", the rights and obligations of such citizens were expressed to apply only "within the limits of the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State".[5]

The Irish Free State first notified the UK government that it proposed to issue its own passports in 1923.[6] The Irish government initially proposed that the description they would give citizens in their passports would be "Citizen of the Irish Free State".[7] According to a report from The Irish Times the first time that Irish passports were used was by the Irish delegation to the League of Nations in August 1923.[8] The British Government objected to this. It insisted that the appropriate description was "British subject", because, inter alia, the Irish Free State was part of the British Commonwealth. The Irish government considered the British viewpoint. The Governor-General subsequently informed the British government that the description that would generally be used (with some exceptions) would be "Citizen of the Irish Free State and of the British Commonwealth of Nations".[6] Without reaching agreement with the UK, the Irish government issued its first passports to the general public on 3 April 1924,[9] using this description.

The British Government was not satisfied with this compromise. It instructed its consular and passport officers everywhere, that Irish Free State passports were not to be recognised if the holder was not described in the passport as a "British Subject".[10] This led to considerable practical difficulty for Irish Free State citizens abroad with many having to obtain British passports in addition to their Irish Free State passports. The British consular officers would also confiscate the Irish Free State passports, a practice the Irish authorities regarded as "very humiliating".[10] The issue continued to be a thorny one until the early 1930s.

In 1939, two years after the adoption of the Constitution of 1937, which formally renamed the state "Ireland", the Irish government decided to make significant changes to the form of Irish passports. As a courtesy, the Irish authorities notified the British authorities. In a memorandum dated 1 March 1939 entitled "The Form of Eire Passports", the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, Thomas W.H. Inskip, informed his Government of developments which had recently taken place "regarding the form of passports issued by the Government of Eire".[11] In the memorandum, the Secretary of State reported that "hitherto [the passports] (which have not, I understand, been amended since 1936 have borne two indications of relationship to the British Commonwealth of Nations". These, the memorandum noted, were the reference to the King including his full title in the "request" page; and a front page, where underneath the words "Irish Free State" (in Irish, English and French) appear the words "British Commonwealth of Nations". The proposals notified by the Irish authorities included replacing the reference to "Irish Free State" with "Ireland"; amending the "request" page to drop reference to the King; and dropping the reference to the "British Commonwealth of Nations". The Secretary of State proposed that he reply to the Irish authorities in terms that "His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom greatly regrets the proposed elimination of the King's name from Éire passports; that in their view, the omission, when it comes to be known, is bound to create a bad impression in the UK and to widen the separation which Mr de Valera deplores between Éire and Northern Ireland".[11] The Secretary of State noted in his memorandum that to "say more than this might raise questions [relating to whether or not Ireland was still in the Commonwealth] which it was the object of the statement of the 30th December 1937, to avoid". This was a reference to the communique published by Downing Street noting the adoption of the Irish Constitution, stating that in their view Ireland continued to be part of the Commonwealth and affirming the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.[11]

Ultimately, the Irish proceeded with their plans including that the term "Citizen of the Irish Free State and of the British Commonwealth of Nations" would be replaced with "Citizen of Ireland". This has remained the description up to present time, with current Irish passports describing the holder as a "citizen of Ireland" on the request page and giving the holder's nationality as "Éireannach/Irish" on the information page.

"Sale" of passports in 1988–1998

A 1988 scheme was designed to draw foreign investment into Ireland, described in a 1998 Seanad debate as the "Passports for investment scheme"[12] Each had to invest $1,000,000 and live in Ireland for varying periods. The scheme was scrapped in 1998.[13] Before long it was being described as the "sale" of passports in the media, but only 143 passports were passed on under the scheme. Notable applicants included some of the Getty family,[14] Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz and Khalid Sabih Masri. Masri had lent IR£1,100,000 to the petfood company of Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.[15]

Another was Norman Turner from Manchester, whose proposed investment was to build a casino in Dublin's Phoenix Park. Turner had entertained Bertie Ahern and had paid £10,000 in cash to his party, and received his passport later in 1994.[16] The matter was revealed during the Mahon Tribunal hearings in 2008; Mr Ahern commented that Mr Turner had an Irish mother, and that in 2007 some 7,000 other passport applications were assisted in some way by politicians.[17]

The 2006 Moriarty Tribunal report covered the grant of passports to a Mr Fustok and some of his friends. Mr Fustok had previously bought a yearling horse from Taoiseach Charles Haughey for IR£50,000. The Tribunal considered that "The explanation advanced for the payment, namely that it was in consideration for the purchase of a yearling, is highly unconvincing and improbable".[18]

Passport-granting officials have also sold passports illegally, notably Kevin McDonald while working in London, who had sold "hundreds" of passports to criminals for up to £15,000 each in the 1980s, grossing $400,000. McDonald was prosecuted in 1989 and was sentenced to 21 months in jail.[19]

Increased demand following Brexit

After the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016, tens of thousands of Britons as well as many residents in Northern Ireland, applied for an Irish Passport.[20][21]

Senator Neale Richmond, chairman of the Brexit Committee in the Seanad, described in October 2018 the fast growth in the number of Irish passport applications received from the United Kingdom since the Brexit vote. There were 46,229 applications in 2015, the year before the referendum, "consistent with the annual average up to then". In 2016, the year of the Brexit vote, 63,453 applications were received, and there were 80,752 applications in 2017. In first half of 2018, the number was already at 44,962 applications. Richmond stated that, "Embassy officials predict that based on this, 2018 will be the busiest year so far for Irish passport applications in the UK."[22][23]

98,544 applications for Irish passports were received from England, Scotland and Wales in 2018, an increase of 22% on the previous year. The number of applications from Northern Ireland increased by 2% to 84,855.[24]

Passport booklet

Physical appearance

Irish passport booklets use the standard European Union design, with a machine-readable identity page and 32 or 66 visa pages. The cover bears the harp, the national symbol of Ireland. The words on the cover are in both of Ireland's official languages, Irish and English. The top of the cover page reads An tAontas Eorpach and the equivalent in English, European Union. Just above the harp are the words Éire and its equivalent in English, Ireland. The identity page on older Irish passport booklets was on the back cover of the booklet. Newly issued passport booklets have been redesigned with additional security features. The identity page is now a plastic card attached between the front cover and the first paper page (the "Observations" page).

The ePassport or biometric passport, was launched on 16 October 2006 with the first ePassports presented that day by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.[25]

  • Photo of passport holder, printed in greyscale.
  • Type (P)
  • Country (IRL)
  • Passport number
  • 1. Surname
  • 2. Forename(s)
  • 3. Nationality (ÉIREANNACH/IRISH)
  • 4. Date of Birth
  • 5. Sex
  • 6. Place of birth (county of birth if born on the island of Ireland (all 32 counties), 3 letter country code of country of birth if born elsewhere.)
  • 7. Date of issue
  • 8. Date of expiry
  • 9. Authority
  • 10. Signature

The information page ends with the machine readable zone starting with P<IRL.

Request page

Irish passport booklets contain a note on the inside cover which states:

In Irish:

Iarrann Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha agus Trádála na hÉireann ar gach n-aon lena mbaineann ligean dá shealbhóir seo, saoránach d'Éirinn, gabháil ar aghaidh gan bhac gan chosc agus gach cúnamh agus caomhnú is gá a thabhairt don sealbhóir.

In English:

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland requests all whom it may concern to allow the bearer, a citizen of Ireland, to pass freely and without hindrance and to afford the bearer all necessary assistance and protection.

Formerly, the request was also made in French, but this has been discontinued as newer versions of the passport were introduced.


The data page/information page is printed in Irish, English and French. Each detail includes a reference number (e.g. "1 SLOINNE/SURNAME/NOM"). This reference number can be used to look up translations into any other EU language, as all EU passports share a standard text layout.

Security features

The latest Irish passport booklets have security features designed to make them difficult to forge or be mistaken as forgeries. They have also been optimised for machine reading.

The identity page of the passport booklet has been moved to the front of the passport and is now printed on a plastic card. This allows easier machine reading of the passport, as the official has to spend less time finding the identity page in the passport. The top-right corner of the passport booklet contains the biometric chip, which contains a copy of the information contained on the identity page, and a facial scan of the holder. To prevent unauthorised parties remotely accessing the information stored in the RFID biometric chip, the machine readable zone of the identity page must be scanned to unlock it.[26] This safeguard is known as Basic Access Control.

The title of the identity page "Éire/Ireland/Irlande" "Pas/Passport/Passeport" is printed in colour-changing ink, which varies from light green to gold-red, depending on the angle of the light shining on it. The background of the identity page is a complex celtic design, with the words "Éire Ireland" occasionally woven into the design.

The identity picture is now greyscale, and is digitally printed onto the surface of the page, rather than the actual photos sent by the applicant being pasted onto the page. The Irish harp is superimposed as a hologram onto the bottom right corner of the photograph. The words "Éire Ireland" are embossed several times into either side of the identity page. This embossing partially covers the photograph as an added security measure. A likeness of the photograph of the applicant is pin-punched into the surface of the identity page, and can be viewed when the identity page is held to light.

Under UV light, fluorescing fibres are visible on every page except the data page. The first sentence of Article 2 of the Irish constitution is visible under UV light and is printed in both Irish and English on alternate pages. The 2013 version of the passport also reveal a topographical map of Ireland on the observations page. Later pages include such landmarks as the Cliffs of Moher, the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the Aviva Stadium; there are excepts from poems in Irish (by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill), English (by William Butler Yeats) and Ulster Scots (by James Orr) and from the score of the national anthem, "Amhrán na bhFiann".[27]

Passport Card

Passport Card
Front of the card
(note that the validity of this specimen image is TEN years, rather than the actual current maximum of FIVE years)
TypePassport card; optional convenient addition/replacement for existing bearers of an Irish passport booklet for extra charge of €35
Issued by Ireland
PurposeProof of identity
Valid inAll  EU & EFTA states[28][29]
European microstates[30][31][32][33]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina
 Faroe Islands[34][35]
French overseas territories [36]
 Greenland (de facto)[34][37]
 Montserrat (max. 14 days)
 North Cyprus
EligibilityIrish citizenship[4]
Expiration5 years or until expiry date of passport booklet (whichever comes first)

A credit card-sized Passport Card was introduced on 5 October 2015.[40] It was originally announced as being available in mid-July 2015 but was subsequently delayed.[41][42][42] It conforms to international standards for biometric and machine readable travel documents promulgated by ICAO.[43]

Unlike the United States Passport Card, which cannot be used for international air travel or for land and sea travel outside North America, the Irish passport card can be used for air travel and throughout the European Economic Area and Switzerland and some non-EEA countries such as Albania, Bosnia, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montserrat (max. 14 days) . However, at introduction, it was only publicised as having been approved for entry and exit by countries in the EEA. A few days afterwards it was confirmed that Switzerland had given its approval.[44]

The Irish Passport Card is a passport in card format and is intended to be usable as a travel document in most European countries, in a similar way to national identity cards elsewhere in the EEA. It is largely treated in the same way as an identity card in several other EU countries,[45] since that is what their laws call such cards.[46][47] However, the IATA Timatic database used by airlines to find out document requirements lists the passport card as a separate document type. In addition, Serbia and North Macedonia, who accept identity cards from other EU countries, have stated they do not accept the Irish passport card, meaning Irish citizens remain obliged to present a passport book when entering those countries. The card uses the designation "IP" in its machine readable zone (MRZ) (the "I" means identity card and the "P" is without meaning in the MRZ standard). Although ICAO began preparatory work on machine readable passport cards as early as 1968, Ireland was the first country to issue one for air travel and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan, highlighted the novelty and utility of Ireland's Passport Card at its 2015 introduction.[48][49]

It costs €35 and is valid for five years or the validity of the bearer's passport booklet, whichever is less. From November 2018 Passport Cards are available to all Irish Citizens.[4] Unlike national identity cards issued in other parts of the EU, an Irish passport card cannot be issued unless the bearer already has a valid passport booklet but, because of its convenient size and durable format compared to the Irish passport booklet, it will also serve purposes similar to that of national identity cards in other parts of the EU: identity and age verification, and intra-EU travel.[50]

Although they can be used at electronic passport control gates at Dublin Airport,[51] it is not possible yet to use this card at many electronic border gates / e-gates in Europe. At airports with fewer manned border control posts this can commonly cause delays.

Security features

The long-delayed and recently issued Irish passport cards have security features designed to make them difficult to forge or be mistaken as forgeries. They have also been optimised for machine reading.

The top-left corner of the passport card contains the biometric chip, which contains a copy of the information printed on the card, and a facial scan of the holder. To prevent unauthorised parties remotely accessing the information stored in the RFID biometric chip, the machine readable zone of the identity page must be scanned to unlock it. This safeguard is known as Basic Access Control.

The designation of the document "Éire/Ireland/Irlande" "Pas/Passport/Passeport" is printed in colour-changing ink, which varies from light green to gold-red, depending on the angle of the light shining on it. The background for the front of the passport card is a complex Celtic design, with the words for "Éire / Ireland" appearing in the official languages of the EU as part of the design.

The identity picture is greyscale, and is digitally printed onto the surface of the special security polycarbonate. The Irish harp is superimposed as a hologram onto the bottom right corner of the photograph. A likeness of the applicant in a hologram photo on a strip on the back is the first time this security feature will be used on travel documents according to the Irish security printing firm DLRS Group that assisted in its development.[52][53]

Ireland's passport card was joint winner of the Best Regional ID Document at the High Security Printing Europe Conference in Bucharest, Romania in March 2016.[54]

Visa free travel

Visa requirements for Irish citizens are travel restrictions placed upon citizens of Ireland by the authorities of other states. As of 3 October 2018, Irish citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 185 countries and territories, ranking the Irish passport 5th worldwide (tied with the Belgian, Canadian and Swiss passports) according to the Visa Restrictions Index.

Notable cases of purported fraudulent use

An Irish passport, legitimate or fraudulent, is viewed by many – including intelligence services and journalists – as a highly valuable and 'safe' document due to Ireland's policy of neutrality.[55]

  • Oliver North (using the name "John Clancy") a United States Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, carried a false Irish passport while visiting Iran in 1986, as did his fellow covert operatives.[56][57] This was part of a series of events that became known as the Iran–Contra affair.
  • In December 2005, Ireland's Minister for Justice Michael McDowell accused journalist Frank Connolly of having travelled to Colombia in 2001 on a falsely obtained Irish passport in connection with the group known as the Colombia Three.[58] Connolly, who worked at the Centre for Public Inquiry, (intended as a public watch-dog organisation), vigorously denied the allegation and in turn accused the Minister of abusing his position.[59]
  • On 19 January 2010, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander, was assassinated in Dubai by a team involving at least 11 Israeli individuals, three of whom were initially reported as using counterfeit Irish passports.[60] The number of forged Irish passports used in the killing was later revised upwards to eight following a Garda and Department of Foreign Affairs investigation.[61] The Irish government responded by expelling a staff member of the Israeli Embassy in Dublin. It stated it considered "an Israeli government agency was responsible for the misuse and, most likely, the manufacture of the forged Irish passports associated with the murder of Mr. Mabhouh."[62]
  • In June 2010 it was alleged that one of ten covert sleeper agents of the Russian government under non-official cover in the United States as part of the "Illegals Program" used a forged Irish passport issued in the name of "Eunan Gerard Doherty" to "Richard Murphy."[63] The Russian embassy in Dublin reportedly declined to comment on the allegations that its officials had used a counterfeit Irish passport.[64] "Richard Murphy," who later identified himself as Russian national Vladimir Guryev, was repatriated to Russia, along with the other nine members of the Illegals Program, as part of a prisoner exchange.[65] It later emerged that the passports of up to six Irish citizens may have been compromised by the Russian agents.[66] This led to the expulsion of a Dublin-based Russian diplomat in February 2011.[67]

Eligibility for an Irish passport

Irish passports may only be issued to individuals holding Irish citizenship. Irish nationality law is extended to include Northern Ireland.

All Irish citizens have the constitutional right to hold a passport, although the Irish state may limit this right for purposes of national security. Irish courts also have the power to confiscate passports of defendants.[69][70][71] Adult passport booklets are generally valid for 10 years and children passport booklets valid for 5 years. The validity of passport booklets can be limited by the Passport Office for certain individuals, especially those who have lost two or more passports. Passport cards are valid for 5 years or the validity of the corresponding passport booklet, whichever is the lesser period.

There was a post-Brexit Irish passport surge, breaking previous records with over 700,000 passports issued by the end of November 2016.[72]

See also



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    69. "A.G. v. X [1992] IESC 1; [1992] 1 IR 1 (5th March, 1992)". 18 July 2012. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012.
    70. "700,000 Passport issued amid Brexit surge". Irish Examiner. 29 November 2016.

    Further reading

    • Torpey, John C. (2000). The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship, and the State. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-63493-9.
    • Lloyd, Martin (2003). The Passport: The History of Man's Most Travelled Document. Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-2964-6.
    • O'Grady, Joseph P. (November 1989). "The Irish Free State Passport and the Question of Citizenship, 1921-4". Irish Historical Studies. 26 (104): 396–405. JSTOR 30008695.
    • Daly, Mary E. (May 2001). "Irish Nationality and Citizenship since 1922". Irish Historical Studies. 32 (127): 377–407. JSTOR 30007221.
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