Monday 16 September 2019

Don't throw away your public service cards, warns Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as he pledges 'greater transparency'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media during his visit to Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media during his visit to Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Employment Affairs and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Alan O'Keeffe

People should keep their Public Service Cards and not throw them away or cut them up, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

The Taoiseach faced questions about the cards controversy following a damning report by the Data Protection Commissioner which found the retention of documentation on millions of citizens was unlawful.

READ MORE: Strategy of developing a one-card-fits-all system lies in tatters

The commissioner also declared it was unlawful that the card be used as the basis for access to a range of public services.

Mr Varadkar said some four million people have the cards and they will still need the cards to access pensions, benefits, treatments, and other services.

He said the report had been received by the Department of Social Protection only in the last couple of days and that Minister Doherty and the Attorney General would be examining it in detail.

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Employment Affairs and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Steve Humphreys

He said the Government would be publishing it as soon as possible.

"The Government will consider the data protection commissioner's report and respond to it quickly. There will certainly need to be some changes around the retention of data and around transparency and also around strengthening the legal basis for the PSC card," he said.

Questioned during a visit to the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Drogheda, he said the card had been successful in making it easier to access public services and had helped to fight welfare fraud.

He was asked if Social Welfare Minister Regina Doherty had been remiss in not flagging problems a year ago when the commissioner produced a draft report signalling the same problems he said it was a draft report which leads to further submissions and it is the full report which the Government will now consider.

READ MORE: Regina Doherty under fire over €60m spend on botched Public Services Card

He acknowledged that there were problems that needed to addressed, such as the retention of data and issues of transparency.

The Taoiseach said: "There are issues that are going to have to be changed. Certainly issues around retaining data that does not need to be retained. That can be stopped. And deleted.

"There will have to be greater transparency. We will also have to also examine how we can strengthen the legal basis for the Public Service Card.

"But bear in mind the fundamentals here. The public service card was established a long time ago to help people access public services, to make public services more efficient and to crackdown on fraud. It has been successful in that regard.

"People should not cut up their card. They should not throw it out and it has been successful in that regard. You are still going to need it. You are going to need it if you collect your pension, if you lose your job, for child benefit, for social welfare benefit, for treatment benefits.

"You will use it for a whole range of public services. So from the point of view of day-to-day experience of the public, it is not going to change very much - but there will be changes that we will have to make as a government'" he said.

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