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Making PSC mandatory for all passport applications would have meant 'significantly' longer waiting times

The Department of Foreign Affairs was unwilling to make it a requirement.

File photo. Minister Paschal Donohoe posing with a large-size PSC.
File photo. Minister Paschal Donohoe posing with a large-size PSC.
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE DEPARTMENT OF Foreign Affairs said that introducing the Public Services Card (PSC) as a mandatory requirement for all passport applications would have a “significant negative impact” on processing times.

A senior civil servant in Foreign Affairs told colleagues from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) in October 2018 that making the PSC a requirement would also “seriously undermine” its plans for people to renew their passports online. 

Documents released to TheJournal.ie and its investigative platform Noteworthy.ie under the Freedom of Information Act highlight how the Department of Foreign Affairs decided to make the PSC an optional requirement for people looking to renew their passport.

From 2017 onwards, any first-time adult applicants for an Irish passports were required to have a PSC to proceed with their applications. 

However, an investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner into the legality of the card found that there was no legal basis for the PSC to be a mandatory requirement for anything other than welfare payments. 

The government has so far said it rejects the findings from the commissioner and will fight them in court if necessary.

It has sought to expand the number of government services you need a PSC for in recent years, including for driving licences and as an age card. Earlier this year civil servants within government departments were even told to look at making the PSC a potential replacement for the Medical Card. 

Last week however, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the Passport Service will no longer be required for first-time passport applicants

A spokesperson said Tánaiste Simon Coveney had directed that a “review” of the documents required be undertaken with specific reference to the PSC, and this review had resulted in it no longer being a requirement. 

The documents released under Freedom of Information show a reticence from Foreign Affairs to make the PSC a requirement for all passport applications.

In a note to the Implementation and Policy Group on Public Service Identity – a group that is made up of senior civil servants from DPER and DEASP – a senior figure within Foreign Affairs said she wanted to provide an update on “progress” in relation to the PSC.

She said: “As part of the ‘egovernment’ strategy 2017-2020, the department stated that by the end of 2018, holding a PSC… would be required by all adults resident within the State when renewing their passports.”

The civil servant proceeds to outline how online applications for passports have helped the Passport Service to meet the “ever-increasing demand” before delving into why making the PSC a mandatory requirement for all adult applications might not be a good idea.

After statistical analysis it had undertaken, the department determined that making the PSC mandatory for passport applications “would impact negatively on the uptake of the online [passport] service by adults living in the State and would seriously undermine the realisation of benefits of the Online Passport Renewal Service”. 

The civil servant went on: “The introduction of a requirement for applicants using our traditional channel to hold a PSC card by the end of this year would also have a significant negative impact on the processing times for those applications.”

The department took the decision to make having a PSC an optional requirement for people wishing to provide evidence of their identity when applying online or through the paper application form.

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This would be reviewed when the “core technology” of the passport issuance system is replaced next year. 

While the Data Protection Commissioner has found that no legal basis for making the PSC mandatory outside of welfare, the government has said it disagrees with this finding. It also rejects the finding that retaining data on the over 3 million people in Ireland who have received the card is unlawful. 

The Data Protection Commissioner has yet to initiate an enforcement action against the government, which could yet see the matter decided in court. 

With additional reporting from Ken Foxe and the team at Noteworthy.ie – find out more about their work here.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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