'My legal advice is incredibly strong' - Minister intends to continue Govt plan for Public Services Card

'My legal advice is incredibly strong' - Minister intends to continue Govt plan for Public Services Card

Update: Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said that based on their own legal advice, her department does not accept the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to the Public Services Card.

Last month, the State's data watchdog found that the use of the card for many Government services had no basis in law.

Ms Doherty told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that there is strong legal backing for her department’s stance, but she said her department had the highest of respect for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

It may be the first time a regulator has been challenged by a Government body, but it would not be the last, she added.

The department is seeking a meeting with the commission to discuss the findings at the earliest opportunity.

Ms Doherty said: "The Government will continue acting on the basis of legislation passed in 2005, on the basis that they have a clear legal underpinning to what they are doing."

"To be respectful, where we have a difference is in the interpretation of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

"My legal advice is incredibly strong that we have a clear and unambiguous legal basis to do exactly what we intended to do from 2005, and what successive governments have done since."

Ms Doherty said she will not publish the legal advice yet, but she intends publishing the commission's report, as well as the Government's response.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said the Government is taking the "nuclear option" in preparing to challenge the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner in the courts.

Speaking on RTÉ radio's Today with Sean O'Rourke, ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said the finding by the Data Protection Commissioner was a conclusive finding by an independent statutory body with legal powers to make binding findings.

The Government was refusing to comply with the findings and take measures to address them, he said.

"When the Minister this morning referred to the fact that she wants to meet with the Data Protection Commissioner, that is a bizarre suggestion, because there has been two years of ongoing meetings, correspondence between her department and the Commission, this isn't something to sit down and have a cup of tea about now, they're findings, if you don't accept them - you can challenge them, that's a nuclear option and highly risky and regrettable."

It was easy for Ms Doherty to say they had a strong legal basis to support their case when nobody else has seen the legal advice, added Mr Herrick.

Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fáil spokesperson for Social protection Willie O'Dea, said the Government was handling the situation "very badly".

Mr O'Dea said a comprehensive debate on the issue was needed, and there was no need to extend the use of the Public Services Card to anything more than social welfare.

Earlier: Minister thinks Govt has 'strong case' for clarifying findings on Public Services Card issue

The Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said he believes there is a strong case for gaining clarification over the data watchdog's findings on the Public Services Card.

'My legal advice is incredibly strong' - Minister intends to continue Govt plan for Public Services Card

It comes after a two-year investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner found that it was unlawful to force individuals to obtain the card to access State services.

The Government was told it must now delete data on 3.2 million citizens who have been issued the card.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties criticised the decision to appeal the DPC's findings.

The report was discussed at Cabinet last night where Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty and Minister Donohoe briefed colleagues.

Mr Donohoe said: "I have reviewed a number of different pieces of legal advice that have been made available to me now through the office of the Attorney General.

"We do all this in the context of the greatest respect for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner, but we believe there is a strong case for gaining clarification regarding the views that the Commissioner has issued."

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