Creed refuses to rule out need for ID cards for farmers
All farmers will be forced to apply for EU funds online from next year
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has refused to rule out the prospect that controversial Public Services Cards (PSCs) will be required for more than a hundred thousand farmers to apply for EU payments.
It comes as the Irish Independent has learned that the Department of Agriculture has committed to allowing access to apply for the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) payments through the Government's MyGovID website by September 2018.
Users of this website are already required to have the card to set up a verified account which allows them secure access to online public services.
Last night, Mr Creed's officials didn't rule out the prospect that holding a PSC will be a requirement for farmers to access EU payments in the future.
Instead a statement said "no decision" had been taken to change the existing application process.
The Government set out its plans to roll out the use of PSCs and the MyGovID website in its eGovernment Strategy published in June.
The document stated: "The widespread adoption of the PSC infrastructure, including its online counterpart MyGovID, to underpin access to public services is critical to the successful delivery of the eGovernment Strategy."
The strategy lists September 2018 as the date that the Department of Agriculture has committed to allowing access to the services provided by its existing Agfood.ie website via MyGovID.
This year more than 114,000 farmers made applications for EU funds under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) through the Agfood.ie website.
The numbers applying online is set to increase as all BPS applications are to be made online by 2018.
The Irish Independent asked the department if farmers will ultimately be required to hold a PSC to make applications under the BPS.
The department's statement said: "Access to the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) online services is through the department's Agfood.ie web portal where there is detailed information on how to apply for these and other services.
"No decision has been taken to change this process," it added. The statement also outlined how EU regulations require all member states to move to a system of 100pc online applications for BPS by 2018.
"As was the case in 2017, a range of supports will be provided to farmers by the Department in relation to online application," the department added.
Controversy has arisen over the introduction of PSCs after it emerged that a woman in her 70s who refused to register for the card had her pension cut off.
There was confusion when Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty last week said the card is "not compulsory" but it is "mandatory" to access all of the services - such as pension payments - provided by her department.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties has expressed concern that the introduction of the PSC is effectively bringing in a national ID card. Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea accused the Government of trying to introduce a mandatory card "through the back door".
The Department of Public Expenditure last night responded to such criticisms.
It insisted that the PSC doesn't have any of the key characteristics of a national identity card and individuals aren't compelled to carry it or produce to a garda on demand.
It says there are "no plans" to expand it beyond public service transactions and any proposals to do so would require public consultation and consideration in the Oireachtas.
Q&A: What is a Public Services Card?
The Public Services Card (PSC) has been introduced to help people access a range of services such as benefits payments from the Department of Social Protection and, in the future, for passport and driving licence applications.
Why is it controversial?
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties has expressed concern that its introduction will essentially bring in a national ID card "by stealth".
The card came in for criticism last week after it emerged the pension of a woman in her 70s was cut off because she refused to register for the card.
What does the Government say?
There was confusion when Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said the card was "not compulsory", but it was mandatory for accessing services - such as pensions - provided by her department.
The Department of Public Expenditure oversees the eGovernment Strategy that includes the rollout of the cards.
It insists the PSC doesn't have any of the key characteristics of a national identity card. Individuals aren't compelled to carry it or produce to a garda on demand.
It says there's no plan to expand it beyond public service transactions.
What is it currently used for and what will it be used for in future?
Accessing all social protection services such as child benefit and pensions, as well as to sit the driver theory test and new first-time passport applications by adults. In future it will be required for all passport applications and renewals, getting a driving licence and accessing student grants among other plans.
Who has the cards and how can I get one if I don't have it yet?
The Department of Social Protection has issued 2.8 million cards, so far mostly for people who access the department's services.
Those who don't have a Public Services Card yet and would like one can apply for the card by making an appointment on the department's website or visiting one of its offices around the country.
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