Public Services Card issue requires ‘huge amount’ of debate – FF

Amending existing PSC legislation is ‘a simplistic approach,’ says Willie O’Dea

Fianna Fáil said it will not accept the Public Services Card being demanded as a mandatory form of identification for access to services

Fianna Fáil said it will not accept the Public Services Card being demanded as a mandatory form of identification for access to services

 

Fianna Fáil will “play its part in finding a solution” to the Public Services Card controversy, but will not accept the card being demanded as a mandatory form of identification for access to services.

The party’s spokesman on social protection, Willie O’Dea, told The Irish Times, however, that the idea Fianna Fáil would offer an open-ended commitment to supporting new Government legislation on the issue was “manifestly absurd”.

“We wouldn’t commit in advance to supporting legislation we haven’t seen,” he said, adding that the party would not support legislation that would put the PSC project “back on track as it was intended to operate”.

“My instinct is that any simple amending legislation to make legal what they have found to be illegal, I would be recommending very strongly Fianna Fáil oppose such a simplistic approach,” he said. “This requires a huge amount of public debate as to how we will balance this.”

The PSC project was dealt a major blow last week when the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) found that aspects of its data collection were unlawful, and mandated that documentation collected in the roll-out of the card on 3.2 million people would have to be destroyed.

Roll-back

The DPC also found there was no lawful basis for bodies outside the Department of Social Protection to make the card mandatory. The roll-back of the card has already begun, with the Passport Office reviewing its documentary requirements for first-time applicants, who had previously been mandated to have a card.

The State’s immigration office, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) has also suspended its requirement for the card. A note on its website states that, as of Friday, “applicants for naturalisation are no longer required to register with the Department of Social Protection for a Public Services Card (PSC)”.

Lawyers and data protection experts cast doubt on whether the Government could remedy the issues facing the PSC through legislation. Simon McGarr, a solicitor with McGarr Solicitors, said European law on the sharing of data would prevent the PSC from proceeding as envisioned by the State, no matter what laws were passed.

“A national parliament can pass a ‘dog’s dinner’ piece of legislation, if it has the votes. But if it’s in breach of EU law it doesn’t make it binding on all the other Government bodies.”

Red line

Rossa McMahon, a solicitor with PG McMahon, said the Fianna Fáil red line should be a “single, unified piece of legislation” which governs the PSC, as well as other Government initiatives in the area, such as MyGovID and the single customer view. The State could still face fines on the latter two issues, which are set to be investigated by the DPC at a yet-to-be determined date.

He said, however, that he expected the DPC report, along with results from ongoing investigations into biometric technology used in the card, would “add up to fundamental problems which can only be resolved by a rethink of the foundations and a comprehensive legislative framework”.

“Anything else will cause further problems, delays, wasted taxpayer money, fines, and other legal costs.”