A worldwide rush to claim Irish citizenship has led to a record number of Irish passports being issued this year. The department of foreign affairs has already processed 500,000 of the 650,000 passports expected to be completed by the end of 2005.

A department spokes person has attributed the increased demand to the positive perception of Ireland internationally: When you're carrying an Irish passport it's now regarded as having the highest security specifications," he added.

Many Irish living abroad in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain and the USA and who are entitled to Irish citizenship are among those applying for an Irish passport this year. It is now useful for citizens of these countries to have a passport from one of the European countries in order to be able to enter and work in Europe Union more easily. The changes to citizenship requirements, which came into force at the beginning of this year mean that now any person born either in Ireland, or abroad, to at least one Irish-born parent is eligible for an Irish passport.

The decision to make passport renewal free of charge for Irish pensioners aged 65 and over, which had effect as of 1 August, would also have had an impact on increased demand.