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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
The minister says she has no option but to appeal the report's findings in court.

Minister accused of damaging Ireland's reputation by appealing the Data Commissioner's PSC findings

The minister says she has no choice but to appeal the findings in court.

MINISTER REGINA DOHERTY has again defended the Public Services Card (PSC) stating that she has been told the only option the government has is to appeal the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner. 

In a debate on the PSC today in the Dáil this evening, the minister said she sought to meet Commissioner twice since the publication of the report. 

She said both invitations have been refused. The minister said that as of the end of 2017, the PSC rollout has cost €59.7 million. 

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner found that there is no legal basis for making the PSC mandatory outside of welfare.

The government has said it disagrees with this finding, while also rejecting 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 indicated that it will initiate an enforcement action against the government, which could yet see the matter decided in court. 

If the enforcement notice is filed, the minister said her only option is to appeal it to the courts. She added that the department has not done any estimation as to what a court appeal would cost the State. 

Expense to the taxpayer

Fianna Fáil’s Willlie O’Dea urged the government to “pause”, stating that the minister is insisting on dragging the issue into court “at the expense of the taxpayer”.

He called on the government to release the “incredibly strong” legal advice regarding the department’s response to the commissioner’s report. 

If not published, summary of the advice, which O’Dea states came from an outside lawyer, and not the Attorney General, should be released. 
The minister was accused of undermining the Office of the Data Commissioner. O’Dea said he had “no doubt” the commissioner will be “vindicated legally when the time comes”. 

He added that the minister risks damaging Ireland’s reputation by appealing the findings. 

The department’s response “creates the impression that if a company in future is ruled against it can enlist the aid of the government and can get that decision overturned”, he said. 

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O’Dea said he doesn’t disagree with the minister’s position that the card is popular, but asked “why does it have to be mandatory?”

The debate got heated when O’Dea called on the minister to publish the legal advice she received, stating that she can’t pretend that the department’s response to the report, which was published, is the same thing. 

Doherty said she would not accept being accused of misleading the House, stating that she would not stand in the Dáil and take the “guff” from O’Dea, adding that she was “standing up” for herself. 

“You won’t intimidate me deputy, and don’t talk down to me either,” said O’Dea.

Sinn Féin’s John Brady told the minister said “convenience” is not a reason for violating a person’s right to privacy”. 

He highlighted that the Transport Minister Shane Ross told  that his department officials were vindicated in ensuring that the PSC was not required for attaining a drivers’ licence.

“I can’t answer for why Ross said what he said,” she said, adding that she does not know if the Department of Transport or any other department got independent legal advice on their policy formation regarding the PSC.  

Doherty also said that she has no idea if the medical card is still to be replaced by PSC, stating that she first read about it in the media during the week. reported on Sunday that civil servants were told to look at replacing the medical card with the PSC

Independent TD Catherine Connolly took the minister to task stating that when TDs raised their concerns about the card over the years they were “derided, laughed at and at best, we were ignored”. 

She said a “sensible government” and a “wise minister” would have taken on board the concerns. 

The response to the Data Commissioner’s report was an arrogant denial, said Connolly, adding that the department’s response to the report was “nothing short of contemptuous”. 

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