The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has served the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection with an enforcement notice regarding the stated illegality of the public services card.
The notice, which legally compels the department to comply with the findings of a two-year investigation, was delivered yesterday.
Graham Doyle, head of communications with the DPC, confirmed the issuance of the notice. “We have this evening sent an enforcement order to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection,” he said.
Such a move on the part of DPC Helen Dixon has been expected since September 3, when the Government officially stated its intention to challenge her findings, in court if necessary.
The DPC first revealed the results of the probe in mid-August, in lieu of publishing the report which she did not have the power to do.
The key findings were that the card is illegal under Irish law when made a requirement for accessing services other than welfare, and that the State’s retention of personal data on the 3.2m cards in existence is unlawful.
It is believed that the notice encompasses all eight findings of the DPC’s report, seven of which were adversarial to the Department of Social Protection, the State body with primary responsibility for the cards, which were first issued in 2011.
The 172-page report harshly criticised the department under three separate streams — the legal basis for the card or lack thereof; the retention of historic data (primarily utility bills) submitted when applying for the card, and issues regarding the level of transparency surrounding the project from the point of view of the citizens it affects.
It is not clear as to why the enforcement notice is only now issuing, some three months after the Government first announced it would be challenging the DPC’s report.
The Government now has 21 days to appeal the order should it wish to do so, most likely via a challenge in the Circuit Court.
That could see the saga extended greatly. Assuming the challenge led to appeals and counter-appeals as far as the Court of Justice of the EU, it could take as long as three years.
While the Ministers for Social Protection and Public Expenditure, Regina Doherty and Paschal Donohoe, announced in September they would be challenging the findings in the DPC report, a number of departments and state bodies have since dialled back the mandatory requirement that people hold a card in order to use their services, with passport applications being a significant example. The only remaining outlier to this trend is the National Childcare Scheme, which went live on November 20.
Ms Doherty and Mr Donohoe, in a joint statement, said at the time the attorney general had advised them that they had a “strong legal basis” on which to continue with the public services card project as it stands.