Government condemned for ‘childish’ response to Public Services Card report

The Government has been accused of denigrating the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was taken to task by Sinn Fein’s John Brady during Leader’s Questions today over Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) Helen Dixon’s report on the legality of the Public Services Card (PSC).

The cards are used to access a number of benefits including pensions, treatment and other Government services.

Ms Dixon’s 172-page report found the retention of documentation from those who apply for the card, up to four million citizens, was unlawful.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said publicly this week that her department had no plans to comply with any of the instructions in the report, which is likely to result in a lengthy legal fight.

Desist in your continuous undermining of the DPC and her good office

Mr Brady said in the Dail: “The report tells us of the flawed arguments put forward by the Department of Social Protection.

“In some instances, they are totally nonsensical, it also gives us a very clear insight as to the attitude of the department towards the DPC, one that can only be described as embarrassing and childish.

“I say embarrassing when I think of the 470 unnumbered scanned pages, sent by the department as their response to the initial draft of the report, like a child throwing a tantrum, unprofessional and unbefitting of a Government department within this state.”

Mr Brady noted the Department of Social Protection threatened the Data Commissioner with legal proceedings previously after it demanded more time to reply to the draft report, even though the deadline had already been extended, and he called the move “totally unwarranted and unreasonable”.

Addressing Mr Varadkar, he added: “The holding of personal documentation belonging to those who apply for a PSC by the department indefinitely cannot be explained.

“You said yesterday that your view on the DPC’s findings is supported by outside legal counsel, I believe that advice should be published by Government in the public interest, will you publish it?”

The Taoiseach replied that he is a supporter of the PSC, and along with three million people across Ireland he has the card.

He added: “It’s exactly what it says on the tin, what it was intended to be when introduced in 2005,  it’s there to assist people and make public services more efficient.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon published a 172-page report on the Public Services Card (handout/PA)</figcaption>
Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon published a 172-page report on the Public Services Card (handout/PA)

“The reason why most people like it is instead of going through rigmarole of supplying paperwork and getting passport photos when dealing with a new Government service, you only have to do that once.

“We don’t publish legal advice but if it goes to court, then of course that will be made public at that point, which is normal procedure.”

Mr Brady said there is a strong argument for the legal advice to be published.

He added: “3.2 million people had no choice but to get one [a PSC] as it was mandatory but not compulsory.

“Are you going to implement findings of the DPC or are you going to continue to illegally implement the Public Services Card and force the DPC to initiate legal enforcement proceedings, a waste of public funds?

“Desist in your continuous undermining of the DPC and her good office.”

The Taoiseach replied that the Government has yet to receive any enforcement order, but will study it if it goes to litigation.

He added the Minister for Social Protection has offered to meet with the DPC, but she has declined.

- Press Association

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