Public services card not needed for new childcare scheme – Varadkar

Taoiseach says parents without card can ‘go through the rigmarole’ of filling in forms

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty insisted that she is not undermining the Data Protection Commissioner’s office, which ruled that it was illegal to force the public to apply for a PSC for services other than social welfare.  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty insisted that she is not undermining the Data Protection Commissioner’s office, which ruled that it was illegal to force the public to apply for a PSC for services other than social welfare. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Parents without a public services card (PSC) will not have to acquire one to apply for a new childcare scheme which comes into effect in the autumn, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has told the Dáil.

The Taoiseach said alternative options will be found for applicants for the new National Childcare Scheme who do not wish to have a card.

However, it is not clear if this marks a change in the Government’s position since August, when parents were told that only those with a PSC would be able to make applications online.

Saying he has a PSC card himself, Mr Varadkar said he believed that 80 per cent of parents expected to apply for the childcare scheme will have the card and the convenience of applying online.

He said there would be an option for people who do not wish to have a PSC to “go through the rigmarole” of filling in forms, providing bank statements and photographs.

“Mark my words. People will vote with their feet,” he said. The National Childcare Scheme begins in late October. Parents , and not their childcare providers, will be the ones who must apply for childcare fee subsidies.

The card has been at the centre of a major controversy following the report by the Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, which ruled that it was illegal to force the public to apply for a PSC for services other than social welfare.

‘Legal technicality’

Questioned on Wednesday, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty insisted that she is not undermining the data commissioner’s office, describing the conflict between them as “just a legal technicality”.

“I think it isn’t about Helen Dixon as a professional because I think she’s real professional. It would be a pity if you tried to pit one woman against another about something that’s just a legal technicality,” she said.

Facing calls from Sinn Féin’s John Brady to publish the legal advice gathered by the Department of Social Protection, Mr Varadkar said it would be published when the matter comes to court.

The card will make it easier for the public to get State services, and cut fraud. He added that Ms Doherty had offered to met the data commissioner, but this offer was declined.

Ms Doherty rejected charges that she had undermined the Data Protection Commission (DPC), which regulates the European interests of some of the worlds largest tech companies.

“People, whether it’s Facebook or the Department of Employment Affairs, have the ability to be able to challenge those findings. That’s what happens in courts, that’s what happens in most judicial processes in the country,” she said.

Numerous appeals

The legal of cost of the disagreement between the department and the DPC cannot be judged, but it could lead to numerous appeals. “But we’re not proposing to challenge it all the way,” she said.

Ms Doherty spoke before the launch of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed’s Working for Work handbook, which offers information to those making the journey from welfare to work.

Bríd O’Brien, the organisation’s head of policy and media, called on the Government to introduce a €6 across-the-board increase in welfare payments for the unemployed in the upcoming budget.

Without an increase, Ms O’Brien said, “the consequences are people will be left where they are, and then the reality is, for a lot of people, they will struggle to make ends meet.”