Ex-justice minister Michael McDowell ‘opposed national ID card’

Civil liberties watchdog calls for clarity on whether Government intends to introduce compulsory identity card

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said it would be compulsory for all passport applicants to hold a public services card. Photograph: Eric Luke

A former minister for justice in the government that decided to introduce public services cards for citizens has said he was against national identity cards and remained opposed to them.

Senator Michael McDowell said, however, he did not know whether the public services card (PSC) card being issued by the Government “actually does amount to an identity card”.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said on Monday the Government should clarify the position on the introduction of PSCs, which have been issued to over 2.3 million citizens to date.

All citizens applying for a passport and a driving licence will in future have to first obtain the State-issued card.


The decision to introduce the cards was taken in 2004 when Mr McDowell, then a member of the Progressive Democrats, was in government with Fianna Fáil led by Bertie Ahern.

"I was always against [a national ID card] and I made it clear at the time that I was against identity cards and that the only circumstance in which I would contemplate going along with the idea would be that if as a result of the Good Friday agreement that the British introduced them in the North and that we had to follow suit," Mr McDowell told The Irish Times.


“The English Labour Party was very keen to do it and it was dropped in the UK. I’m against it on liberal ideological grounds. I don’t know whether this card actually does amount to an identity card.”

Mr McDowell said he believed ID cards “alter the citizen’s relationship with the State because in the end it will become more and more mandatory to have it and carry it and all the rest of it”.

Liam Herrick, executive director of the ICC, said that if the Government wished to introduce mandatory national ID cards, "they should propose such a measure through primary legislation and facilitate a national debate on such a measure".


“In such a debate ICCL would argue that ID cards are an ineffective, expensive and intrusive mechanism to advance the stated public policy objectives. We note that plans to introduce a national ID card system in the UK were abandoned in 2010 for these reasons,” Mr Herrick said.

Dr TJ McIntyre, a UCD law lecturer and chairman of the privacy advocacy group Digital Rights Ireland, said on Sunday these measures marked the introduction of a "national ID card by stealth" and he believed it was being done "in a way which appears to be illegal".

Labour Party TD and spokesman on enterprise Alan Kelly said he believed the card was a good thing that had major potential benefits, such as the revival of the rural post office network.

“I think the cards would be very helpful on issues of identity and bringing multiple ID requirements on to one platform. I am the person who brought in the Leap [travel] card. I think the travel pass and the Leap card can all be incorporated into this and in future you should be able to do other services through it as well.”

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe confirmed that all passport applicants would be required to have a PSC from the autumn, although he insisted it was "not and will not be" compulsory for citizens to get the card.