U-turn on use of public services card for driving licence may cost millions

A government U-turn on making it a mandatory requirement for people to use a public services card (PSC) to apply for a driving licence or learner permit, from April 9, could cost several million euro.

Paschal Donohoe showing off the public services card (file)

The Department of Transport was warned, in March, that the decision by Transport Minister, Shane Ross, not to proceed with the mandatory use of the card, would have “significant implications” for the Road Safety Authority, which oversees the driving licensing and testing system.

RSA chief executive, Moyagh Murdock, said some of the €2m that had been spent on IT and communications for the proposed changes, would have to be written-off, while an annual, €7m contract for staffing National Driver Licence Service centres, which was due to end in February, 2019, may have to be extended.

Documents that were released under the Freedom of Information Act to transparency campaign group, TheStory.ie, show Ms Murdock also complained to the Department of Transport that the “reputation of, and public confidence in, the RSA will be damaged” by the decision.

Records show that the Department of Transport notified the RSA on March 9 — just a month before the planned changes — that it should no longer proceed with restricting applications for driving licences and learner permits to those with a PSC.

The plan, now, is to make it one of the acceptable forms of identification, as the minister is not prepared to make it mandatory, at this time,” a senior transport official said.

It is understood Mr Ross made the decision after receiving advice from the attorney general’s office about the legal standing of the public services card being mandatory for driving licences.

The RSA was also advised that it should pull its advertising campaign about the proposed change, in rules relating to the card, and that the delivery of required legislation to permit online applications for driving licences by April 30 was seriously in doubt.

Ms Murdock replied back that the RSA was at “a point of no return."

She described the change of plans as “an unexpected development”, given the RSA had been progressing the project “vigorously”, since March 2017, when it had been instructed by the Department of Transport to treat the integration of the PSC into the driving licence system as a priority.

Ms Murdock pointed out that the RSA had been criticised, at that stage, for the rate at which the project had been proceeding.

A spokesperson for Mr Ross said that no losses have arisen from expenditure on introducing an online driving licence application system.

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