What has happened now?
The Department of Social Protection has agreed to publish the Data Protection Commissioner’s distinctly adversarial report into the Public Services Card at an indeterminate date in the future as it has yet to “fully consider” its implications.
Is this controversial?
Yes, but it’s not entirely unexpected. The Department has been operating from a basis of more or less radio silence since the DPC announced last week that her investigation had almost entirely gone against what Social Protection has been saying for a year - that the expansion of the card to State services like driving licence and passport applications was entirely legal. The DPC said today it “regrets” the report is not being immediately published and it can see no reason why it isn’t being released at this time.
Does it change much?
It’s significant that the Department has now made an absolute commitment to publish the report. However, the question is when. The Department has said it expects its consultations with the Attorney General and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding its response to the report will take “another week or so”. But again, that doesn’t clarify when the report will finally be released.
Why is this controversial?
For any number of reasons. An interim report into the card was released to the Department fully 12 months ago, with conclusions unchanged from the final report according to the Commissioner. That means that the Department has had a full year to consider the implications of the report, yet is now asking for more time.
What difference another week makes - assuming that it is only a week - is perhaps moot, but it could certainly be argued that the report could be released immediately without greatly altering much other than the Department’s own response.
Is much riding on this?
An enormous amount, as the PSC has turned into something of a political grenade with the pin taken out. Both the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Social Protection, Paschal Donohoe and Regina Doherty respectively, are now in the unenviable position of having to explain their actions over the past year despite having no obvious escape outlet open to them.
While the Commissioner’s findings are known, her reasons for arriving at those conclusions will not become fully clear until the report is in the public domain.
In the meantime it’s hard to conclude that the latest delay will allow for much other than a face-saving exercise on the part of the two departments, who will have to make their case for why they pushed on with the PSC project despite being told in no uncertain terms that to do so would be illegal 12 months ago.