Regina Doherty under fire over €60m spend on botched Public Services Card

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty is facing questions as to why more than €60m was spent on the botched Public Services Card (PSC), while a “bonkers” anomaly that has left thousands of people with reduced pensions remained unresolved.

The damning findings of Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon’s investigation into the PSC were still being considered by Ms Doherty and the Government last night.

Ms Dixon’s two-year probe found there was no legal reason to make individuals obtain the card in order to access State services such as passports, drivers’ licences and student grants.

The Government has been told it must now delete data on 3.2 million citizens who have been issued the card.

It has three weeks to respond to the report, which it is also being asked to publish.

Ms Doherty and the Department of Social Protection refused to say whether they accept the findings of the report or if it will be published.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) findings will have wide-ranging implications and, according to legal experts, could see the State fined under data protection law and be subject to legal action from individuals.

Fianna Fáil’s social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said Ms Doherty has “questions to answer”.

He said that for “roughly” the same amount of money spent on the PSC scheme, a high-profile pensions anomaly could have been resolved.

The anomaly, which has been described by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe as “bonkers”, sees pensioners, particularly women, penalised by €35 a week because they have taken time out of the workforce at some stage in their career.

“It gives a very clear view of this Government’s priorities. They are more interested in extending a system of surveillance or at least trying to justify expenditures that weren’t justified at all, rather than paying the people they should have been paying,” he said.

The Irish Independent can also reveal Ms Dixon is escalating her investigation into the PSC further, while the Public Accounts Committee plans to investigate the more than €60m spent on the scheme.

PAC chairman Seán Fleming described the scheme as a “waste of taxpayers’ money”. The Fianna Fáil TD said the Government had tried to bring in a national ID card “through the back door”.

“It was a dishonest approach from the beginning, they tried to do it through the back door and they’ve now been called out. This is the Government’s dishonesty being found out,” Mr Fleming said. “It’s actually Government incompetence.”

Mr Fleming said officials from the DPC, and the Departments of Social Protection and Public Expenditure would be asked to appear before his committee in September.

Ms Dixon also plans to examine the personal data processing elements attached to MyGovID, seen as a core Government initiative to streamline citizen access to services.

“We will be looking at the personal data processing connected with MyGovID which includes in large part the PSC as a mandatory element, but not exclusively PSC-related personal data,” she said.

Ms Dixon will also examine whether the Government’s handling of photo identification on the PSC card constitutes a ‘biometric’ process, which may attract a higher level of data protection obligations on the part of the State under GDPR law.

However, Ms Dixon emphasised that the PSC card may still be used as a mandatory ID for social welfare applicants and other services attached to the Department of Employment/Social Protection.

TJ McIntyre, a digital law expert and UCD professor, said GDPR law also meant there could now be fines levied on State agencies over the PSC debacle as well as legal cases taken by individuals.

“Anybody in the category of having been aggrieved by this would be able to take legal action even if they didn’t suffer direct harm,” he said.

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