Calls for Regina Doherty to resign over public services card

Opposition say PAC should examine if € 60m spend represented value for money

 Minister for  Social Protection Regina Doherty: accused of being ‘bull-headed’ about card.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty: accused of being ‘bull-headed’ about card. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Data Protection Commissioner’s hard-hitting report on the public services card has led to calls for Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty to resign and for a Public Accounts Committee investigation.

Commissioner Helen Dixon said there was no lawful basis to require people to carry a card to access a growing number of State services that were not under the control by the Department of Social Protection. They included applying for a passport, or renewing a driving licence or seeking college grants.

The Government was told to delete data it had gathered on 3.2 million citizens in respect of non-welfare interactions.

In a brief comment, Ms Doherty said she had received the 170 page report, was considering it, and would respond in due course.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection Willie O’Dea called for the PAC to be called in to examine if the €60 million costs to date for the card represented value for money for the taxpayer.

He criticised Ms Doherty for forging ahead with introducing new services and requirements, as well as issuing more cards, when she knew there was a question-mark over data protection issues.

“The Minister was very dismissive of criticisms and concerns about if the scheme had a proper legal underpinning. She and her department knew the commissioner was investigation the matter but continued to turn out the cards and new services,” he said.

‘Bull-headed’

TJ McIntryre, a digital law expert and associate professor in the School of Law in UCD, went further and called for Ms Doherty and the secretary general of the department to resign over this issue, and another recent ruling in which the Data Protection Commission found that senior officials in the department made an intervention that impacted on the independence of its own data protection officer.

“The department, as a whole, has been going at this bull-headed even when it was clear it had no legal basis.”

He said there was no evidence to support the argument that the card had prevented welfare fraud. He also criticised the fact that there was one large database accessible to all, which was “vulnerable to snoopers”.

Saying it was a solution in search of a problem, Dr McIntyre argued that the public service card should be scrapped to allow a new scheme be designed that would make it transparent to individuals their privacy was being protected.

“At the institutional level, this department has no regard for data. Both the Minister and secretary general should resign,” he said.

He also said the true cost was greater than €60 million because there would have been high IT costs involved for other departments and agencies such as the Road Safety Authority, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI)

Sinn Féin spokesman on social protection John Brady said it was too early to call for Ms Doherty’s resignation and his party would await the full report before making any decision. He also said he favoured a full Public Account Committee investigation.

Unlawful

“The findings show that the department not only unlawfully forced people to get the public service card, it also unlawfully held on to individuals’ data. We know that the necessity for the people to have the card had no legal basis whatsoever.

“There are also serious questions around the €62 million spent on the rollout of the card. We new only last year that new contracts were signed. That came in the midst of a lengthy investigation that has now gone on for two years.

“Questions have to be asked why, when such serious issues were raised, the ministers said time and time again it was mandatory but not compulsory,” he said.

It was the second “major mess” involving the Government this week, he said, after the sudden closure of the deep retrofit scheme. He said the scheme should be suspended pending consideration of the report.