Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has said the Government will “review” how its attempts to force the public services card into widespread use resulted in a damaging public backlash after an Independent minister said the Coalition must listen to the people’s concerns, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.
Mr Donohoe confirmed the approach taken on the issue by Government will be re-examined after Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said officials must “go back” to the proposed legislation “and take it from there”.
Despite continuing to back the card’s introduction after two weeks of controversy over the new service, data protection concerns, and questions over why it is being forced into use, Mr Donohoe admitted mistakes may have been made.
While insisting the card is still the best way to ensure people in most need access the services they require, he confirmed the approach to the policy in recent days will be reviewed due to the public backlash it has caused.
“Well, of course we’re going to review what has happened across a number of weeks, but we feel the public services card is the best way to ensure the billions we spend to provide services are made available to people who need them,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Today With Sean O’Rourke programme.
Earlier, Children’s Minister and unaligned Independent TD Katherine Zappone told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland programme the legislation may need to be re-examined due to the uproar over the issue.
Saying she has taken the views of the Data Protection Commissioner on board, Ms Zappone said she does not believe critics of the policy are “necessarily all wrong” and that it may be necessary to “go back” and review what has happened.
“I don’t think they’re necessarily all wrong. I have read what the data commissioner has said and again I think the Government needs to listen to that and go back to proposed legislation in that regard and take it from there,” she said.
While the Government remains in almost total support of the card’s introduction, the decision by an Independent minister to admit the Coalition needs to listen to legitimate concerns has the potential to force Fine Gael into diluting its approach on the matter.
Meanwhile, Disabilities Minister and Independent Alliance TD Finian McGrath backed the introduction of the public services card, saying it is “absolutely not” an issue and that “for the last 10 days I’ve been in my constituency and not once did this come up on the doors”.
However, its use continued to be criticised by the Opposition, with Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald saying Government claims that section 263 of the 2005 Social Welfare Act allows the card to be imposed are incorrect as the law only allows the service to be introduced as an option.
“This is a serious issue. I’ve listened with amazement to countless ministers who cannot give a credible account of the legal basis for insisting this card should be used. That [the 2005 Act] permits but does not make mandatory or compulsory the use of the card. The Government has decided to act outside its powers,” she claimed.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.