Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Questions (74)

Jonathan O'Brien


74. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the consultancy fees paid to date by his Department for the promotion and roll-out of the public services card in the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39593/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Public)

We move on to the last question, which Deputy Pearse Doherty will ask on behalf of Deputy Jonathan O'Brien. I ask the Deputy to forfeit his initial 20 seconds. The Minister will answer and then the Deputy may ask one question.

As the Deputy is aware, the public services card is a means of assisting the delivery of public services to the people who need them in a safe and efficient manner. It was brought about to ensure personal data is protected and to ensure people get access to public services safely, securely and efficiently.

In January 2017, my Department launched a public communications campaign for both the public services card and MyGovID. The primary objectives of that campaign were: to improve public awareness, to highlight services, and to let people know about the card itself and the detailed information on it. The campaign was delivered on radio, online and through print channels and the cost across the period was €205,440. This included the design and creation of all the creative content, the media strategy and media-buying aspects of the campaign.

In addition, in February this year, a further communications campaign was undertaken in relation to MyGovID. The aim of this campaign was to drive public awareness of the MyGovID online platform and the many benefits associated with it. The campaign was delivered on radio and online channels and the cost of the campaign was €99,669. These campaigns have been successful as the number of verified MyGovID accounts now exceeds 390,000.

The Minister has been a cheerleader for the public services card. He has encouraged people to avail of it as a means of access to other public services in the areas of transport, passports and many others. We have heard of the willingness to spend public money on promoting that idea. The Minister is, however, in a sticky situation. The Data Protection Commissioner has expressed in three of her main findings that there was no legal basis for persons to be required to obtain a public services card in order to transact with a public body other than the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The commissioner has put the Minister firmly in the dock in that regard. She has also said that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was in breach of data retention principles by keeping all data indefinitely and that the Department has been insufficiently transparent with the public in respect of the roll-out of the card. On one hand, the Minister is willing to spend taxpayers' money on challenging the Data Protection Commissioner's findings while on the other hand he will end up funding the commissioner to take this case on the other side.

The new national childcare scheme opens for applications on 29 October. No parent can apply for this scheme without a public services card.

This is despite the Data Protection Commissioner's decision that there is no legal basis for this requirement and it being deemed illegal by the commissioner. Parents who do not have a public services card will have no choice but to wait until January when written applications can be made. Why did the Department interject when a secondary method to apply for this scheme was to be provided for parents? At the insistence of the Department, this proposal was dropped by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Will the Minister explain this, given that the Data Protection Commissioner has deemed that there is no legal basis for leaving parents with only one option as regards the form of identification they can use to apply for the scheme?

My good colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, is working on ways to ensure that families and parents will be able to access the national childcare scheme. The Deputy referred to me being in the dock on this matter. I fully understand the views of the Data Protection Commission, an institution which I take seriously. In each of the budgets that I have introduced, I have made more resources available to the commission because it is an important organisation for the management of information, both for the private sector and Government. I have taken a different view on the role of the public services card following legal advice that has been made available to me. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and I did not take lightly the decision we made to offer a differing view from that of the Data Protection Commissioner. This was done after we obtained legal advice on where we stood, which left me satisfied that the card has robust legal standing and that the appropriate course was to make clear that we take a different view from the commissioner on this issue. I know the commissioner has spoken to the Oireachtas about the issue and indicated the course of action she is likely to take.

Will the Minister outline why his Department insisted that a second form of access to the national childcare scheme be dropped, leaving parents with only the public services card as a means of accessing this scheme?

We believe that we are on solid legal foundations in using the public services card as a way to help citizens to access services efficiently. Encouraging greater use of the public services card over time will lead to more convenient and efficient ways in which families and citizens can access public services.

It is not very convenient for parents.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.