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Shane Ross says his officials were 'vindicated' over stance on Public Services Card for driving tests

The decision was made in March 2018 to not make the controversial card mandatory for a driving test.

psc

MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT Shane Ross has said civil servants in his department were “vindicated” over their concerns around the Public Services Card (PSC), following the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner’s report into its legality.

A summary of that report – which the government has so far refused to publish in full – outlined how there is no legal basis for making a PSC mandatory for services other than social welfare and benefits.

This week, the Data Protection Commission said it would be seeking enforcement action against the government for its refusal to act on the findings of the report.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Ross said officials in department “did the right thing” by flagging their issues with making the card a mandatory requirement for a driving test, despite other government departments pushing the card for other services.

At least €2 million was ploughed into the project of making a PSC a requirement for getting a driving test before the minister pulled the plug in March 2018

Documents released to TheJournal.ie under the freedom of information act showed that the Road Safety Authority (RSA), the body responsible for driving tests, had grave concerns about the legality of the card.

Senior RSA officials repeatedly questioned the Department of Transport, the authority’s parent body and the main driver behind the project, as to whether or not using the card as the only means to obtain a licence would in fact be legal, and were reassured that was indeed the case by the most senior civil servant in the department.

However, over a period of months into early 2018, that position changed.

Ross told the RSA, via his officials, that the plan could not proceed as projected due to the fact specific legislation would have to be drafted in order for it to do so, a position taken following consultation with the office of the Attorney General.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection subsequently wrote to the Department of Transport that this decision would suggest that there were “problems” with the PSC process.

In considering the message, a senior civil servant at the Department of Transport expressed fundamental concerns regarding the whole project.

“The deeper I look into this whole matter the more concerned I get and the greater the number of fundamental questions arise,” they wrote.

In another piece of correspondence, an official wrote: “The minister is having significant doubts about this… we got similar assurance but with little confidence that the [Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection] really grasp the likely impact, in both numbers and, critically, different users to their usual client base.” 

In removing it as a requirement for a driving test and theory test, Ross was acting on the concerns of officials at his department and the RSA.

Furthermore, Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon told TheJournal.ie last month that it was “misleading” to claim that having a PSC makes applying for your driving licence easier, as was claimed on the National Driver’s Licence Service website. 

Speaking two weeks after the landmark findings of the Data Protection Commissioner on the legality of the PSC were made public, Minister Ross said he had to give “full credit to the civil servants” in his department. 

RSA 693_90561114 Minister for Transport Shane Ross Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

“It was the civil servants who spotted this, and they did issue the warning,” he said. 

I do think that the people in my department who pointed this out were doing the right thing, and were maybe were more pressing than others, and they’ve been vindicated.

With reporting from Christina Finn, Cianan Brennan

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Sean Murray

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