Doherty's officials can't back up their claim that the public want to use PSCs as ID cards
Regina Doherty's officials have no formal research to back up their insistence the public actually want to use the Public Services Card (PSC) as an identity card.
Officials at the Department of Social Protection said "customer opinion" was behind new legislation, which will significantly relax restrictions on the use of the card and promote its use as an ID card.
The department said it received the feedback from face-to-face meetings between its staff and customers, rather than through any formal survey or research.
The claims are the latest twist in the row over the roll-out of the PSC, which civil liberties campaigners believe is being introduced as a national ID card by stealth.
Currently, the law only allows for the card to be used in dealings with around 120 "specified bodies" and it is an offence for a private entity to request that someone produce it. Gardaí are prohibited from asking people to show the card as proof of identification.
But the new legislation would allow cardholders get their date of birth printed on their PSC and use it as a substitute to the Garda Age Card.
Cardholders would also be given the discretion to voluntarily produce their PSC to private entities to verify their name and age.
In a statement to the Irish Independent, the department said: "Customer opinion is that they should be allowed to volunteer the card to non-specified bodies if it suits them to do so, for the purpose of ID and age verification. Many customers often report that private companies insist on a passport or driver's licence, which they might not have and which are costly, whereas the PSC is free."
The legislative proposals, contained in the general scheme of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017, are viewed by critics as a step towards the PSC becoming a national ID card.
However, the department said that while it would no longer be an offence for a private entity to accept the card, it would remain an offence for one to require someone to produce the PSC. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted the PSC would not morph into a national ID card.