It’s hard to escape the feeling that Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty’s appearance before her own Oireachtas committee yesterday was anything but an embarrassing car crash for her personally.
The minister’s day in the spotlight had been much-anticipated given it was her first such since the release of the Data Protection Commissioner’s highly adversarial report into her department’s public services card (PSC) project. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
In the course of a very quick 90 minutes, the minister:
That’s a lot of controversy to squeeze into such a short space of time.
In a way, you could say the minister suffers from being too good a politician.
Repeating whatever nonsense they are briefed upon with absolute conviction is an important skill for a politico, and the minister’s pugnacious style generally serves her well. But that gives the lie to the fact she had never really been queried directly and at length over the PSC, on a factual level and at length in a public forum, since the DPC’s report first dropped.
Yesterday she was, the same soundbites were trotted out, but when the discussion got into the weeds of the PSC project Ms Doherty was found seriously wanting.
In this context, she has been woefully underserved by her own officials, who sent her out to spout things that are demonstrably false, and by her colleague Paschal Donohoe who has overall responsibility for the card’s expansion to non-welfare services but has let Ms Doherty take almost 100% of the opprobrium.
At the same time, how does a senior minister of state, dealing with a subject she has been quizzed on for two years now, go before a committee and say so many inaccurate things?
Yesterday, the minister laughed when it was suggested to her that Ireland’s small but accomplished data protection community are to a man sceptical at best as to the PSC’s legality. If her department’s legal challenge of the Data Protection Commissioner fails, it will be no laughing matter.