Donohoe was briefed on investigation into public services card last year

Donohoe was briefed on investigation into public services card last year

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe was briefed on an interim report of an investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner into the public services card a year ago, it has emerged.

That report was delivered to his department by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in August 2018.

The final report of the commissioner was made public last Friday and found that the expansion of the card for accessing multiple other State services, such as passport applications, is illegal under EU law.

Commissioner Helen Dixon has said the findings in the interim report were replicated in the final report.

Ms Dixon also ordered that historical data held on each of the card’s 3.2m holders must be deleted by the Department of Social Protection in the immediate future.

The Department of Public Expenditure is the State body with primary responsibility for the expansion of the card’s remit. Mr Donohoe launched that expansion in May 2017.

Last Friday Mr Donohoe told RTÉ in the aftermath of the commissioner’s announcement that he had been briefed that morning by his officials on the report’s “key points”.

Today’s revelations in the Irish Examiner indicate that he had been briefed on the findings of a draft report at least 12 months earlier.

A spokesperson for the Department said Mr Donohue “was updated on the draft report by his officials when it was received by the Department of Employment Affairs Social Protection in 2018”.

The spokesperson also confirmed the department made no official comment on the interim report as the Department of Social Protection had already responded “as it had been issued to them”.

The news is likely to draw Public Expenditure and its minister further into the growing controversy over the card, which has been primarily focused on Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty over the past week.

While Social Protection has primary responsibility for the card, which was first issued in 2011 as a means for people to access welfare services, it is Public Expenditure which drove the expansion of the card forward across State bodies.

In April 2016 the Road Safety Authority was informed by an official from the Department of Transport that the public services card was the “only show in town” with regard to driver testing and licence applications.

The same official said his department was under pressure in wider civil service circles to progress the card’s expansion, with passport and licensing deemed as “essential to get on board quickly” from the point of view of Public Expenditure.

The mandatory requirement to have a public services card to get a driving licence was dramatically pulled in May 2018 after the Attorney General informed Minister for Transport Shane Ross that such a requirement was not legal.

Last week, Mr Donohoe denied the public services card issue was a mess and said the reasoning behind its expansion had been to make it easier for citizens to access State services.

However, he did say the matter is “clearly a very serious issue”.

He said “when governments have an operational role with very complex schemes like this, we do so with the expectation and assurance that they’re legal”.

He said he “would expect” the Government response to the commissioner’s decision would be to comply with its requests to stop issuing the card for services other than welfare and to delete the historically held data.

“We need to consider the consequences of that and see if it affects the delivery of public services in any unintended way,” he said.

Mr Donohoe did not respond to a request for comment on the matter yesterday. Ms Doherty has not made any public statement on the matter since Friday morning. The Department of Social Protection is still considering the report.

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