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'Answers are overdue': Almost a year on, it's still unclear if probe into legality of PSC will be published

The Department of Social Protection says a “decision will made” once the full report becomes available.

THE REPORT THAT is examining aspects of the Public Services Card still hasn’t been published and there is currently no date in sight for when it will be published. 

A draft of this report from the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) that looked into the legality of the controversial card was given to the Department of Social Protection in August 2018.

This contained what the department called “provisional findings”, and it asked for further information and clarifications about the report. 

The controversial card was first introduced in 2012 for accessing certain social welfare payments, but has since been expanded as a requirement for other services. 

These include getting a driving licence and the driver theory test, but the government has since rolled back on that – and announced it would “phase out” the contracts of employees who are involved in the PSC process.

Almost a year on from that, “answers are overdue” to the public in regards to the Public Services Card, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties told TheJournal.ie.

A spokesperson said: “The public, like the Department, is awaiting a conclusion to the the Data Protection Commissioner’s lengthy investigation into the Public Services Card. It has been nearly two years since they opened a formal audit into the card’s legality. 

Rather than waiting for the investigation to conclude, the Department continues to extend the PSC’s compulsory nature into a widening pool of essential services.

‘Decision will be made’

Despite making submissions to the DPC in November 2018, Minister Regina Doherty told Wexford TD Mick Wallace in an answer to a parliamentary question that a response is still awaited.

Doherty said that her department was “specifically asked by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner not to share the draft report with any other party and it intends to abide by that request”.

In a statement to the TheJournal.ie, the department said it’s up to the DPC when it will provide the next draft of its report.

“It is a matter for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner as to when the department will be provided with the next draft of the report.

A decision on whether or not to publish the final version of the report will be made once it has been made available to, and has been considered fully by, the department.

It’s understood that, as the government has rolled back on it being a requirement for some services, it has changed how the investigation into the PSC has been conducted by the Data Protection Commissioner. 

Head of communications at the office of the Data Protection Commissioner Graham Doyle told TheJournal.ie that its investigation remains ongoing but is currently at an “advanced stage”.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be published in full when ready. 

Its spokesperson said: “We are also concerned that, when the investigation concludes, neither the Department nor the Data Protection Commissioner will share the report with the public. 

The DPC has stated repeatedly that they are not legally authorised to make their report public – this reasoning is unclear to us. The Department also will not commit to sharing the report at the investigation conclusion even though DPC representatives stated publicly in the Oireachtas on 3 April that the Department can share the report at the investigation’s end. 

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Sean Murray

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