Fianna Fáil rules out backing legislation to extend uses of Public Services Card

Fianna Fáil rules out backing legislation to extend uses of Public Services Card

Fianna Fáil has strongly ruled out backing legislation to extend the use the controversial Public Services Card.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has suggested that the Government will bring forward amending legislation after the Data Protection Commissioner found some current uses of the card are illegal. However, Fianna Fáil's social protection spokesperson Willie O'Dea dismissed the Taoiseach's proposal and said a review of the card is required.

"It's utterly absurd that we would be supporting legislation that we have not even seen or that hasn't even been drafted. If such legislation is brought before the Dáil in the autumn I would be advising my party to reject it," he said.

Mr O'Dea (pictured) said a "serious debate" around the uses of the card is now required and he will be calling for this when the Dáil returns after the summer recess.

"There is a certain convenience in collating a person's data like this, but it has to be balanced with a person's privacy," he said.

After a 20-month investigation, the Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, found the expansion of the card’s remit to other State services from its social welfare origins is illegal under data protection legislation.

Speaking over the weekend, Mr Varadkar said the Attorney General is now considering the Commissioner's report - due to be published shortly - and said the Government will be examining whether laws can be amended.

"There will certainly be the need for some changes around the retention of data, around transparency and around strengthening the legal basis for the PSC card," said Mr Varadkar.

He urged the more than three million people who have a card to keep it as it will be needed for social protection services such as pensions and bus passes.

However, Mr O'Dea said: "Amending legislation like the Taoiseach proposed certainly would not have my support."

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to hear from Ms Dixon on September 26 after it asked her to attend to outline her findings.

Committee chairman Sean Fleming also wants the Departments of Social Protection and Public Expenditure and Reform to appear before PAC to face questioning on the card controversy.

“The Government always intended it to be a national ID card but they never admitted and they snuck it in through the back door through the Department of Social Protection,” he said. “Every Government Department is using these now without proper authorisation in many cases.

“We are going to have bring in not just the Department of Social Protection but also the Department of Expenditure and Reform – because they are responsible for the entire public service and this is across the all the public services, it is not just one department, " he told Newstalk.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin has called on Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty to speak out on the Public Services Card controversy.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, John Brady, is calling on Minister Doherty to give some answers.

"It's imperative that the Minister breaks her silence and that she gives her commitment to implement in full the findings of the report and answers to serious questions as to who gave the go-ahead given the level of concerns being highlighted since 2011 for the expansion of the use of the Public Service Card," he said.

Mr O'Dea is also critical of Ms Doherty claiming: "The Minister's arrogance has been breathtaking, she ploughed ahead with printing more and more cards when the Data Commissioner was carrying out an investigation into it."

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