Civil rights campaigners say they are seeking clarity around the mandatory use of the public services card as the Government confirmed it will be required to secure passports in future.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said all passport applicants would need to have the card in 12 months. But opposition TDs have queried the legality of it being mandatory.
The confusion follows the case of a woman in her 70s who had her pension cut after refusing to register for a card. She is owed €13,000 after being refused payments over 18 months.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said it was still awaiting clarity from the Government about confusion over the rules and the changed circumstances for using the card. Spokesman Liam Herrick said the group had written to Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, whose department is overseeing the use of the card for services online.
The department says that, as part of the eGovernment strategy, some services are setting target dates for the use of the card to access facilities online.
These include the use of cards for Revenue and the drivers theory test by June this year, school transport appeals by September and checking for dental and optical benefits by November.
The department wants adult passport applicants to use cards by the last quarter of next year and for new driver licence applicants to apply with one by March next year.
However, the ICCL said this strategy was not backed by primary legislation.
Mr Herrick said clarity was still being sought as to why applicants for some services were being told they must have a card if it was not mandatory. The group wrote to Mr Donohoe last week and are awaiting a response.
“The eGovernment strategy is not primary legislation, it is a framework. It is for the government to clarify this. We won’t be letting this go,” the ICCL official told the Irish Examiner.
The public services card was introduced in 2011, initially for people getting social welfare.
The Department of Public Expenditure says the card is not required to access online services. However, what is required, it says, is a verified online identification and as such the services card provides the “highest level” of verification, comparable to systems used across the EU.
Foreign Affairs said the Government had formally made a decision on July 17 that all passport applicants would require a services card by late 2018. But TDs are now questioning the legitimacy of services demanding users have a services card.
Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said it was “morally” wrong to deny people services. “However, it is also the case that the legal basis for this is debatable, and that the Government may not be entitled to require registration for this card, as numerous legal experts have outlined, stating ‘we are not aware of any such legal requirement’,” he said.
He argued there was “no legal basis” for the card.
Meanwhile, Age Action has confirmed it has been contacted by people who are having difficulty trying to complete forms and apply for public services cards.
Spokesman Justin Moran said elderly people had also experienced difficulties trying to access travel passes where they were asked for a public services card.
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