Fianna Fáil criticises Minister’s ‘threats’ over public services card

‘What she should be doing is outlining the benefits of the card: You will have less bureaucracy’

Fianna Fáil has backed the concept of the controversial public services card but has criticised what he described as “threats” by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty to cut off vulnerable people on social benefits.

Front bench member Robert Troy has said the card was a welcome development that would allow people to access State services while cutting down on bureaucracy and fraud.

However, he criticised Ms Doherty for what he described as her heavy-handed and negative manner in defending the card.

“It is regrettable that Regina Doherty is threatening people you are not going to get your entitlements unless you have the card,” he said.


“What she should really be doing is outlining the benefits of the card: that you will have less bureaucracy, that you will have a streamlined approach for people accessing State services, to reassure people from a data protection perspective that information they have supplied will be protected.”

The card is not compulsory for all citizens but it is mandatory for collecting welfare payments as well as sitting a driver theory test. Its uses will soon be extended to other State services including passports and driving licence applications; as well as marriage certificates and EU agricultural payments.

Mr Troy said that upwards of 2.1 million people had this card already and said that instead of issuing threats, Ms Doherty should be extolling its benefits.

“It is what it is. It is a public services card. It’s a card that will enable you to access the State services, be it health, social welfare and agriculture. It cuts down on bureaucracy and cuts down the potential for fraud and it is a welcome development,” said Mr Troy.

“I am very unhappy with the way it is being rolled out and people being threatened by Minister Doherty, people who are vulnerable and reliant on State services. She has told them if you don’t get this we will cut you off.”

Confidentiality concerns

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall again raised concerns about the confidentiality and safety of citizens’ data held on Public Services Cards.

She said they were currently required by a private American company which operated driver theory tests in Ireland.

“The Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said that 50 public bodies had access to individuals’ private data that is stored on the public services cards.

“This is a cause for concern, especially as the Minister failed to provide sufficient assurances about the safety and security of that data from the point of view of citizens.

“Many people are rightly worried about the security of their private information in terms of how it is stored, shared and accessed.”

Mr Shortall said there seemed to be a “creeping expansion” of the services that could only be accessed through use of the card.

However, Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes defended the card saying the Government was right to continue rolling it out.

Mr Hayes also called for the introduction of a national ID card system, something which has been opposed by civil liberties groups.

“I think it is right that a public service card is required to access public services. Our methods of documenting citizens has become outdated and needs to be modernised. It makes public services more efficient and user friendly for everyone.”

“All 28 EU member states except for Ireland, UK and Denmark issue their citizens with national identity cards with the majority of member states making it compulsory to hold one. In many member states the national ID card incorporates a person’s social security card, birth certificate, bank card and sometimes even driver’s license all into one.”

He criticised what he called as “scaremongering” over its use, saying the card had existed for five years and had been successful in reducing social welfare fraud.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said on Wednesday it would continue to press the Government on the issue and was working closely with colleagues at Digital Rights Ireland, Data Compliance Europe and with other independent experts “to highlight the significant privacy concerns which are raised by this scheme”.

The ICCL confirmed it had written to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe asking if it was still the Government’s position that the card was not mandatory, and that possession of, and application for it, was voluntary.

Law lecturer and chairman of Digital Rights Ireland Dr TJ McIntyre, said there was no legal basis for the widespread data sharing being done by the Government as part of the card project. EU law meant such sharing required primary legislation passed by the Oireachtas, he said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times