Sides in talks to 'narrow down' issues in 'massively complex' Public Services Card case

The State’s appeal had resulted from a ruling made by the DPC that the card is illegal when used for services other than welfare
Sides in talks to 'narrow down' issues in 'massively complex' Public Services Card case

Dublin Circuit Court heard that the case, which has taken almost exactly two years to come to a full hearing, is likely to take eight days, though just three days had been apportioned in the court’s calendar. File picture: iStock

The Government’s appeal against a ruling by the Data Protection Commission that the Public Services Card (PSC) is illegal is “massively complex”, a court heard this morning.

Dublin Circuit Court heard that the case, which has taken almost exactly two years to come to a full hearing, is likely to take eight days, though just three days had been apportioned in the court’s calendar.

Today, counsel for the Department, Brian Kennedy SC, told Judge John O’Connor that due to the complex nature of the case “important discussions” were continuing between his team and the DPC’s representatives with a view to “narrowing down” the issues under debate. He said that “considerable” progress” had been made in those discussions.

He said his opening submission when it happens is likely to take 90 minutes, with the DPC’s rebuttal, courtesy of Ronan Kennedy SC, likely to take a half hour. Mr Kennedy, for the State, said that there is a “massive” amount of exhibits which will need to be handed into the court.

He suggested that given the lengthy nature of the documents which will need to be entered into the court record, it would make sense that they be “discussed in the abstract”, a point to which the judge readily agreed.

Mr Kennedy said that given the DPC had yet to finalise its own submissions to the court “we didn’t want to give ours in advance if they hadn’t”. The case continues.

Case background

The State’s appeal had resulted from a ruling made by the DPC, following a two-year investigation into the Public Services Card, which stated in August 2019, amongst other findings, that the card is illegal when used for services other than welfare.

When the Department of Social Protection said it would not accept those rulings, the DPC issued an enforcement notice regarding its decision. The Circuit Court action is in appeal against that enforcement notice.

The much-delayed case had fallen foul of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on court sittings.

When submissions were last heard in October of 2020, the Department of Social Protection - the body responsible for the controversial PSC - had argued that the 175-page affidavit filed by the DPC had been overly “voluminous”.

That compared against four affidavits - legally sworn documents - on the part of four of the Department’s staff stating its case which measured 118 pages in total.

The PSC was first introduced as a requirement for accessing welfare benefits in 2011. Last month it emerged that the project had cost €98 million in totality between its inception and the end of 2019.

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