Ireland can learn from Britain’s ID card failure

Opponents of public service cards here have urged examination of the experience in Britain which had a costly, at times comical, and ultimately doomed dalliance with a similar plan.

The UK toyed with the idea of a national identity card in the 1990s but began in earnest to explore plans following 9/11. Initially termed an “entitlement card” that would be required to access state services — much like the public services card — it soon evolved into a full-scale identity card complete with a fingerprint and photograph database, a national identity register, and fines for failure to register and/or failure to update information kept on the register.

The Identity Cards Act of 2006 set out the provisions of the plan but it quickly ran into practical difficulties such as the massive scale of the IT infrastructure needed. Pilot projects were begun with select groups of society — such as foreign workers, airport workers and first time passport applicants —but public opinion was building against it.

Things took a farcical turn when the identity minister given the task of selling the card turned up at a promotional event and had to admit she had left hers at home.

It was stated that the card would not become compulsory until the majority of UK residents had been issued with one but the project never got that far.

A change of government led to a U-turn in 2011 with the cancellation of cards already issued and the destruction of the national identity register.

Ironically, Scotland, where parliament voted to reject the cards in 2008, has since introduced a national entitlements card, raising some of the same privacy and security concerns as the identity card although its uses are more restricted.

Throughout the saga, numerous public consultations and opinion polls were carried out but it did not stop €300m being lost on the scheme before its abolition. Calls for a card have been revived in recent times because of terrorist attacks.


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