The centralisation of driving licence production was branded an attack on rural Ireland yesterday, as the Road Safety Authority defended the new system as the cheapest for consumers.
From September, applicants will no longer be allowed to have their picture taken in a nearby pharmacy or by a local photographer.
Instead, it must be captured by SGS, a Swiss-based multinational founded in France, that has been appointed by the RSA to operate the system in Ireland.
Ironically, attempts to bring in a similar centralised system in France failed after a huge outcry there among consumers.
The RSA sought yesterday to justify the introduction of the credit-card style licences, describing them as “cost-effective” despite the immediate doubling of the price of 10-year licences from €25 to €55.
The RSA decision has incensed community-based pharmacists and photographers as this centralising of the driving licence cuts off a regular source of income.
Gerry Strong, a photographer from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, said the new system would decimate the ID industry in Ireland, a business worth €8.9m annually.
“This will have a huge affect on my business,” Mr Strong said yesterday on Today with Pat Kenny on RTÉ radio. “It will also be hugely inconvenient for driving licence applicants.
“It is all very well for people living in Galway city or Dublin but for people outside of those areas it will mean having to travel long distances. This is yet another attack on rural Ireland.”
His view was echoed by Darragh Connolly of the Irish Pharmacy Union, who argued that it was strange that passport photos could still be taken by pharmacists, photographers, and even applicants themselves, while the RSA was insisting on a centralised system for driving licences.
“The most secure form of ID we have in this country is a passport. Those photos are taken by me, other pharmacists and photographers around the country. Of course, they have to be up to the standard required of the Passport Office. In fact, under the new arrangements, you will need to present your passport in order to get a driving licence even though, from September driving licence applicants will have to do what they are told by SGS.”
The RSA’s Noel Brett said the arrangements were part of a new EU-wide system aimed at standardising driving licences in all member states. “Right now we have 100 different types of licences in Europe,” he said.
“Everyone is moving to this credit card-style licence with photo embedded. In Ireland it will form part of a new validation scheme called Safe 2 which will apply throughout the public service, including IDs for availing of social services.”
The new scheme will involve setting up a network of RSA offices around the country to process licences.
From tomorrow week, all new driving licences will be issued in credit card format.
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