Taoiseach: Public Services Card will never become national ID

Leo Varadkar says he notes concerns of Data Protection Commissioner about data project

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre) with Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty at Stanhope Street  Primary School  in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre) with Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty at Stanhope Street Primary School in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted the public service card is not and will never become a national identity card.

Speaking at a school in Stanhope Street, Mr Varadkar said he has noted the concerns of the Data Protection Commissioner about the project, which has seen some 2.8 million cards distributed to people across the State to date.

However, Mr Varadkar stressed that he was confident there was a legislative basis for the card.

“I always pay close attention to the Data Protection Commissioner has to say,” he told reporters on Dublin on Thursday. “I will always pay attention to what she has to say and the Government will respond to any concerns that the Data Protection Commissioner has.”

The commissioner’s office on Wednesday said it had requested that the Department of Social Protection publish a comprehensive list of questions and answers relating to the public services card project.

“The questions include such matters as: how the legislative provisions set out in the relevant Social Welfare Acts, which have been cited to the Data Protection Commissioner as the legal basis for the PSC, provide a robust legal basis for what is now being implemented across the public sector, beyond public services provided by the Department of Social Protection?”

The card scheme, and associated data sharing in the public sector, have created controversy in the past week after The Irish Times reported that an elderly woman’s pension had been cut off by the department because she refused to register for the card.

Withheld money

In total, the money withheld is about €13,000. The woman said she had felt “bullied” by officials and that no one could demonstrate to her that registering for the card was mandatory.

The commissioner’s office also said it had asked the department to confirm how the data collected as part of the issuing of the cards is secured.

Mr Varadkar added: “It is important to say there is a legislative basis for the card. It is there in the 2005 (Social Welfare Consolidation) Act. We are confident there is a legislative basis for it. It is not a national identity card.”

The Taoiseach said there were “absolutely no plans” to introduce a national identity card. “I would not be in favour of a national identity card,” he added.

Mr Varadkar pointed to the benefits of the card and insisted its purpose has been highlighted over a number of years.

It is a public service card and it enables people to access high quality public services, he said.

“I would never dismiss concerns from the Data Protection Commissioner. It is important that data is being held about people is held securely and those who have access to it can only use it in a certain way.”