Government will be forced to comply with ruling on public services card – PAC hears

Data Protection Commissioner stands over her report and is going ahead with enforcement proceedings

A report by Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon found that several aspects of how the public services card was used were unlawful. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

A report by Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon found that several aspects of how the public services card was used were unlawful. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Government will eventually be forced to comply with the Data Protection Commissioner’s ruling on the public services card (PSC), the Public Accounts Committee has heard.

Commissioner Helen Dixon has said she stands over the report which ruled that it was unlawful to require the card for any benefits or services beyond those offered by the Department of Social Protection. It also stated it was illegal for the State to keep data on the over three million people who have the card.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty said her department will not comply with any of the directions in the commissioner’s report.

Ms Dixon told the committee that she stands over the findings and that the commission is going ahead with enforcement proceedings.

“I would imagine the ultimate consequence is that they will be required to comply,” she said.

She said that the Department of Social Protection asked her office for a meeting to try and find a course of action that would “negate” the need for potential legal action over the public services card.

Such a meeting would have been “entirely inappropriate,” Ms Dixon told the the committee.

She has also said that any move by the Department of Children to proceed with the use of the public services card for the soon to be launched childcare scheme is “completely at odds with the findings of our report.”

Officials from the Department of Justice have also told the committee that they are no longer requiring the use of a PSC for citizenship applications and that such application forms have been amended online.

Ms Dixon said that she was willing to meet with Government officials until it became clear that the department planned to fight the findings.

She said that in early September the Department of Social Protection wrote to her saying that the Minister wished it to be known that she was “anxious” that her officials engage in discussions with the commission to determine if measures could be agreed that might “negate” the requirement for legal actions.

Ms Nixon said she has been surprised at the response of the department.

Heated exchanges

Meanwhile, there were heated exchanges in the Dáil in a row over the card when Ms Doherty told her Fianna Fáil counterpart “I won’t take your guff of calling me a liar”.

The party’s social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea accused the Minister of misleading the House during a debate on the card and the report of the Data Protection Commissioner.

Mr O’Dea repeatedly called for the department’s legal advice to be published or an analysis of it. He claimed it was external advice and not that of the Attorney General.

He also claimed Ms Doherty was pretending the department’s response to the report was the same as the legal advice when it was not.

And he hit out at the Minister when she said she was extending a policy initiated by Fianna Fáil in legislation in 1998 and 2005. Mr O’Dea said the legislation Fianna Fáil introduced was the legislation the Commissioner found “doesn’t provide any legal underpinning to extend the PSC to other bodies”.

Ms Doherty said she was happy to defend a policy Mr O’Dea in Cabinet had introduced but “I won’t stand here and have you challenge me and have you telling me I’m telling you lies. I don’t deserve that.”

He replied that “you’re misleading the House” and told her “you won’t intimidate me”.

Ms Doherty retorted that “what I won’t take is your guff calling me a liar” and “I’m sticking up for myself”.

Defending the operation of the card, the Minister said her only choice was to appeal the judgment. She had twice sought to meet the Data protection commissioner but was refused.