Public Service Card cost nears €68m as enforcement order ‘imminent’

Government may challenge Data Protection Commissioner’s ruling restricting use of card

The cost of the public services card has risen to nearly €68 million, according to new information given to the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The new figures were contained a letter sent by the secretary-general of the Department of Social Protection, John McKeon.

It comes as sources have indicated that an enforcement order against the department by the Data Protection Commissioner is “imminent”.

The PAC had sought up-to-date figures from the department on the cost of the card after the commissioner, Helen Dixon, ruled that it was unlawful to require the card for any benefits or services beyond those offered by the Department of Social Protection. The commission also stated it was illegal for the State to keep data on the over three million people who have the card.


“The total costs incurred up to the end of July 2019 related to SAFE identity authentication and PSC issuance amounts to €67.8 million. This figure includes an allocation of €36 million in respect of staff costs related to the administration of the SAFE process and the administration of Public Services Card,” the letter sent to the committee states. SAFE relates to establishing and verifying a person’s identity for accessing public services.

Facial matching software

Of the remaining figure, €29.2 million was spent on the card production company, €294,000 was spent on facial matching software and maintenance, and €2.3 million was spent on departmental hardware and “systems development”.

We will look at the scope and the terms of that enforcement notice and react depending on what it is in it

The commission's report on the card contains eight adverse findings about the project, all of which Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said her department disagrees with. An enforcement order is due to be served "imminently" on the issue.

While it had been expected that the Government would challenge the commission’s legal actions, on the basis of legal advice that the card has a “robust legal basis”, Ms Doherty said on Wednesday: “We will look at the scope and the terms of that enforcement notice and react depending on what it is in it.”

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea asked the Minister if she "has not definitively made up her mind yet to contest or resist this by having recourse to the courts".

‘Legal basis’

Ms Doherty said “it is very difficult to tell . . . with 100 per cent clarity, what we would do until we see that enforcement notice, but I can reiterate the legal advice we have, which is numerous, tells us that the legal basis for conducting the safety registration pass, the production of the PSC card, the retention of the data and the transparency of that entire process is entirely legitimate with regard to the various pieces of legislation and amended legislation that has been passed by successive Government over many years.

“Therefore, if the enforcement notice comes in line with the findings, then I think that legislative basis obviously will still stand. However, as I said, we have not seen an enforcement notice despite it now being some months later, but we will look at the scope and the terms of that enforcement notice and react depending on what it is in it.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times