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'A mistake government doesn't need to make': Refusing to publish PSC report 'absurd', activists claim

Minister Regina Doherty said 11 days ago the report would be published once her department had considered it.

psc

THE GOVERNMENT REFUSING to publish the landmark report into the legality of the Public Services Card (PSC) would be ”a very regrettable decision”, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said. 

The Irish Times reported this morning that the government is set to appeal the findings of the report from the Data Protection Commissioner in court.

It is also set to not publish the report, despite Minister Regina Doherty saying 11 days ago that her department would be publishing it “as soon as our consideration of this final report is complete”. 

Last month, Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon told TheJournal.ie that it had been found that there was no legal basis for a PSC to be a mandatory requirement for anything other than welfare payments.

It also found that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s retention of the data of millions of people who applied for the card has no legal basis and that information must now be destroyed. 

The latter finding opens the possibility for PSC applicants to pursue legal action against the department, given it was found that their data was retained unlawfully. 

Dixon also said that there was a public interest in publishing the report.

Speaking today following the Irish Times report, Liam Herrick of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties told reporters that refusing to publish the report now would be “deeply troubling”. 

“I think this is a very regrettable course of action,” Herrick said. “[Minister Doherty] was very unequivocal. As soon as she’s taken the time to consider it, she would publish it.

It would be astounding – a statutory body conducts a public interest investigation… and the public can’t read that report.

Herrick added that this is a “mistake the government doesn’t need to make” and it would be reputationally damaging. 

CMC8996-7 Liam Herrick (centre) with other activists in Dublin today. Source: Conor McCabe Photography Ltd

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy was also critical of the government. 

She said in a statement: “Multiple ministers and senior civil servants have stood over this project for over a decade and it now appears that they are hostage to it.

The State now plans to challenge the findings of the office of Data Protection Commissioner at further expense to citizens, this is a serious undermining of the independence and autonomy of that office.

Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys, meanwhile, said it was “absurd” for the government to challenge in court the findings of a report while at the same time refusing to publish it.

He said: “As the Government is due to challenge the findings, the report and its full details will all come out in open court, so what are they trying to hide from us?”

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When publishing the findings of the report, Dixon said the department had 21 days to provide an update on how it was implementing the finding that it was no longer lawful to require a PSC for services other than welfare.

Those 21 days expire this Thursday.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said in a statement that it has written to the DPC this evening advising it of its decision to continue using the card. 

The department said that it may be necessary and appropriate for the matter to be referred to the courts for a definitive decision. 

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Sean Murray

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