Thursday 23 January 2020

Anger as Regina Doherty says public service cards now mandatory for welfare

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor

THE Opposition and advocacy groups have expressed concern after a Government minister claimed the new public services card is now mandatory for those who wish to receive social welfare payments.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty was accused of causing confusion last night after she claimed that the card is “mandatory” but “not compulsory”.

She was speaking after a report emerged of a welfare recipient being turned down for public services because they did not hold the card in their possession.

"Let’s be very clear. Nobody is required by law to have a card. So therefore it isn’t compulsory,” Ms Doherty told ‘Newstalk’.

“But for my department it’s mandatory and I know people might say I’m splitting hairs but actually because of the high value of the public services that the department (provides), we give out over €20 billion every year and actually it wasn’t brought in by this government, the legislation was brought in in 2005 – so 12 years ago this has been in the process,” she added.

In one case highlighted in the media, a pensioner is reported to be owed thousands of euro but has refused to register for the card.

Age Action Ireland yesterday expressed concern about the Government’s approach.

“Earlier this week it was revealed a woman in her 70s had her pension cut off because she does not have a Public Services Card,” said the organisation’s head of advocacy and communications Justin Moran.

“We would be very concerned if this new requirement for the card leads to more older people losing their entitlements and we would urge the department to ensure no one is penalised because they do not have a Public Services Card.”

Fianna Fáil last night accused the Government of trying to introduce a mandatory card “through the back door”.

The party’s Social Protection Minister spokesperson Willie O’Dea said it is the view of the majority of the public and members of the Oireachtas that forcing people to avail of a card is the wrong approach.

“There is no difference between ‘compulsory’ and ‘mandatory’," Mr O’Dea said, referring to Ms Doherty’s remarks.

“They shouldn’t be trying to introduce this through the back. They ought to back off,” the Limerick TD added.

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