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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 17 August, 2018
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'I don't see my child as a beggar': Mother questions why son with Down Syndrome has to get a PSC

Dublin woman Carol Brady says the decision on whether or not to get a card is not one her son should have been expected to make.

An examples of the new-style Public Services Free Travel Card The Public Services Card

THE MOTHER OF a man with Down Syndrome has said that the government asking him to register for a Public Services Card (PSC) is a situation he should not have been put in.

Dublin woman Carol Brady’s 29-year-old son was recently issued a letter by the Department of Social Protection requesting his presence at an appointment to register him for the card.

The PSC has been in existence since 2012, and was hitherto primarily used for access to welfare services. In the past year, however, the government has advanced plans to make the card compulsory for many public service functions, including applying for both a driving licence and passport.

Critics of the plan have described it as the introduction of a national identity card “by stealth”, while the seemingly shaky legal basis for the card has been called into question by privacy experts like solicitor Simon McGarr of online data activists Digital Rights Ireland (DRI).

For Carol’s son, the PSC would take the place of his current travel pass, amongst other things.

“Really, we feel we don’t have a choice,” Carol tells TheJournal.ie.

“My son has been on disability for years, he attends a day centre and relies on his disability payment – he has to pay for everything at the centre.

The letter (sent in early August) was addressed to him, but he wouldn’t have the mental capacity to read or understand it. It’s me who has to make the decision.

Earlier this week, the Irish Times reported that an elderly Irish woman had seen her pension denied to her because she refused to sign up for a PSC. Meanwhile, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has insisted that the card is not mandatory.

“It’s not my son doing this, it’s me,” says Carol. “They’re looking for a passport and a utility bill – there’s no way he would have one of those. He wouldn’t even be able to read the letter. He has limited skills and an intellectual disability.”

PSC Final The letter issued to Carol's son by the Department of Social Protection

Click here to view a larger image

They want his phone number but I won’t give it to them. Simple as. Because if they start phoning him he won’t understand.
I hate the thought of having to do this as he won’t understand. And personally I don’t agree with it at all because it just amounts to an ID card.

Carol bemoans both the fact that the new card will bear her son’s PPS number, and the way it will supersede his current travel pass.

Travel pass

“He’ll need this card with him every time he wants to travel. My concern would be that he has lost his pass numerous times. And this thing will have his PPS number on it. What if he loses it? It will take away his independence,” she says.

“But we have to go and do this because if we don’t they’ll cut off his payments. I’ll be very interested to see how they’re going to deal with him. Between this and the pensioner who had her payments cut, it’s a form of bullying.

It just doesn’t feel very nice, it makes you feel like some kind of beggar. Well I don’t see either myself or my child as beggars.

“I’m making this decision reluctantly. It’s not a decision I agree with or am in favour of. Like where is this information going? How will my son’s data be used, or abused?” Carol adds. “They say it’s not compulsory, well I intend to ask them how it isn’t.”

In response to a request for comment on the matter, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said it is “unable to comment on individual cases”.

“The Department has been writing to its customers advising them of the need to get the new free travel card, describing the registration process, inquiring firstly as to their ability to attend the face-to-face PSC registrations process, and asking if they have special requirements,” they continued.

Customers are being asked to contact the Department in this regard in the first instance to advise of their particular circumstances so that the Department can make the necessary accommodations required to help customers undertake the… process.

“Personally I think it’s an identity card, but snuck in through the back door,” says Carol.

There was never really any Dáil discussion on it, and they’re still denying it’s an ID card, but that’s what it is.

“The PSC or its free travel variant is not a National ID Card as it doesn’t bear any of the characteristics of such a card,” is Social Protection’s response to this contention.

Ratifying the Convention

Carol has another take on her son being required to get a PSC.

“This is an identity card as far as I’m concerned, so will it give my son an actual identity?” she asks. “Because I feel he’s had no rights or identity of his own since the day he was born.”

A recent article for TheJournal.ie by Tom Clonan, himself father to a son living with disabilities, called on the government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. At present, Ireland is the only EU member to have failed to do so.

I fully support Tom Clonan on this. The fact is our children have no rights. I’m an older parent. I’m thinking: ‘who will look after my son when I’m gone’? Who will make these decisions for him then?

“This brings up more concerns than just an identity card – it raises the matter of identity. Will it give my son the rights he’s entitled to?” she adds.

Carol believes that Ireland hasn’t ratified the Convention “because if they do it means they have to deliver on it”.

“If you speak to anyone with a child with disabilities in this country, you’d see that their rights are their chief concern,” she says.

In this country we rely on charity and goodwill for the good of our children. But if my child has an identity card, will he now have rights?

Read: Concern for 11-year-old boy missing from Limerick

Read: Ireland’s biggest newspaper group wants Google and Facebook to pay for news

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