About 40% of the 100 passports being stolen in Ireland every week end up on the black market, a senior garda source has told the Sunday Tribune.
More than 5,000 passports were reported stolen in 2008, with this year's tally standing at 2,227.
According to the garda source, an estimated 2,000 of last year's stolen passports have found their way onto a flourishing international passport black market.
The real figure is likely to be higher, he said.
"You would find that some people may have had their passport stolen and are unaware of it so they would just report it as lost. This is an issue which is not in the public knowledge yet and the figures are alarming."
Once a passport is stolen, the garda said, it is passed on at a very minimal fee of between €30 and €40. It is then sold to what are known as "trade contacts" who buy the documents for between €300 and €400.
The passports are then shipped abroad and sold for an estimated €2,000-€3,000 on the international black market.
"Canadian passports are the most in-demand on the market, with the Irish coming in on a close second," said the garda source.
Almost 580,000 passports were issued in 2008.
The total figure for those lost, mislaid or stolen in this time period is 36,264.
This represents 6% of passports issued in those 12 months.
To date this year 291,000 passports have been issued with a total of 15,652 recorded lost, mislaid or stolen.
Fine Gael Spokesperson for Justice Charlie Flanagan has described the figures as "staggering and very worrying".
"Identity theft is a very serious crime and must be guarded against. The statistics show that more passports have been lost or mislaid than stolen and this is also a cause for concern."
Flanagan believes one source of the problem in terms of the availability of passports for thieves is the ID system currently in place in Ireland.
"There is an absence of a more comprehensive ID system in Ireland. Young people are forced to bring their passports out to pubs and nightclubs as a means of identification and proof of age because we have no comprehensive system of ID cards here – unlike almost every country in Europe.
"This anomaly needs to be addressed urgently, as the number of missing passports clearly shows. All new passports should be accompanied by a notice highlighting the need to take good care of the document," he said.
The Data Protection Commission has issued a warning to the public stating it is vital that passports and all other documents of that nature are looked after.
"Everyone issued with a passport is individually responsible for keeping the document safe. We regard a passport as a valuable document containing important personal data and we would encourage everyone to take appropriate measures to keep that data secure," said spokesperson Diarmuid Hallinan.