There has been a sharp fall-off in the number of passports issued in recent years. Figures released by the Department of Foreign Affairs show a staggering 10% drop in the number of passports issued since 2006.

While 630,000 were doled out in 2006, only 577,000 were issued last year with this year's figure currently standing at 291,000.

The numbers illustrate the extent to which the recession has hit the seasonal summer trips abroad, and back up previously released information from the Central Statistics Office showing a fall of 10% in those heading overseas.

Some €1.3bn less is being spent on overseas travel as more Irish people find they cannot afford the customary summer holiday abroad.

While it is bad news for foreign holiday ventures, it is good news for Ireland's internal tourism industry. There have been over two million trips made within the state, bringing in a total of €347m to the economy.

There has been a fall-off in the number of passports lost or stolen but the figures still remain high, with one garda source saying an investigation is likely to be launched into the numbers being stolen.

It is understood almost 40% of stolen passports make their way onto a thriving international black market for Irish passports, which are described as "gold-dust", second in popularity only to Canadian passports.

The figures show that almost 100 passports a week are being stolen, prompting Fine Gael spokesman on justice, Charles Flanagan, to call for renewed security in Irish identity procedures.

It is estimated that an Irish passport could collect from €3,000 to €4,000 on the black market, once they are shipped abroad.