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Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 20 January 2022

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Questions (2, 6)

Gerald Nash

Question:

2. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he plans to produce a White Paper on an expansion of the digital services offered by the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2803/22]

View answer

Gerald Nash

Question:

6. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he plans to produce a White Paper on the expansion of the digital services offered by the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2483/22]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Public)

We have seen the threshold of €3 million MyGovID users being met and surpassed. According to the EU digital services index, Ireland does very well on digital services. I am keen to understand the next steps the Government has in mind on the provision of more and better digital services for citizens. We know the digitalisation of public services is a key element of the national recovery and resilience plan and the Civil Service renewal plan. In my view, a national conversation needs to take place in terms of the next steps. It strikes me that a formal White Paper is required to help prompt that conversation.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 6 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that I am currently finalising a new digital strategy for the civil and public service. The strategy will address the digitalisation of public services theme in the national digital strategy, which the Government intends to publish later this month. The strategy acknowledges the contribution of digitalisation to transform public services and builds on progress made to date under previous strategies. It also recognises the potential of digital as a core part of the recovery and broader socioeconomic development over the next number of years. The new strategy will focus on accelerating the move to a more digital public service for Ireland. It will take an all-of-government approach and build on the successes to date, in particular, those over the past two years. The strategy will consider the digital experience of individuals and businesses when using Government digital services.

I recognise that no one should need to know about every Government service such as all those relating to registering a birth or death, or a business. To that end, I will make it a priority that services are simplified, thereby taking a digital-first approach. This may include using digital to break through organisational boundaries in order that we can deliver better outcomes for individuals and businesses.

As the Deputy will be aware, my ambition for a digital first Civil Service that delivers globally recognised digital services is set out in the strategy, Civil Service Renewal 2030. Providing digital services that are accessible, integrated and customer-driven is key to achieving this ambition, as is working to foster public trust in the safety, transparency and value of digital solutions. The strategy will also reflect the EU’s digital decade and the ambition of a European Green Deal in areas such as the use of environmentally friendly technologies and boosting the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean circular economy. I look forward to publishing the new digital and ICT strategy for the Civil Service and public service in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply but there really needs to be a public conversation about the development of what I might describe as world-class or best-in-class digital services for Irish citizens. I am not sure Irish citizens are fully acquainted with the level of digital services that the Government and the State more generally provide with regard to access to a whole panoply of public services. The Minister of State would agree that it is absolutely ridiculous for people to be asked to present the same information on several occasions, often to the same Department. We know that certain issues the Data Protection Commissioner had with the use of the public services card have been resolved. The Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019 provides for a better and accountable sharing of information across Departments and State agencies to allow for the development of better and more accessible digital services for members of the public. Will the Minister of State provide examples of some of his departmental priorities? What kind of services will be provided to the general public in the context of the new plan he hopes to publish?

I thank Deputy Nash. Earlier, he referred to the fact that we have 3 million MyGovID accounts. Much of this was driven by people not being able to go into Government offices that were closed down because of the pandemic or wanting to do things online to keep a degree of separation. We have a very broad electronic ID. We have a form of authentication that has a very wide uptake compared with similar forms in the average European country. What we do not have is the breadth of Government services available. The number of things that can be done with MyGovID is not large enough. The focus for this year and the coming years will be on extending the use of MyGovID across more Government services. Revenue and the Department of Social Protection are great examples. One can do most everything one needs to do online. That could be seen with the pandemic unemployment payment. One can also register for college and so on. I would love to see that extending into the HSE, for example.

That is real public service reform in the true sense. It would be worthwhile for decisions on the services to be provided to not always come from the centre. What do I mean by that? I mean that the general public ought to be broadly consulted to identify their priorities with regard to access to digital services. A significant resource to prioritise digital services was obtained from the European Union through the national recovery and resilience plan process. That is a good thing. That will modernise our public sector and access to public services. I ask that the Department engage in a consultation process and ask the public what services they wish to be prioritised with regard to better access to digital services. That would be really useful.

Deputy Nash has referred to the need to avoid having to type in one's information again and again. That is referred to as the once only principle. It is a common principle across Europe that people should have the convenience of being able to store their information. That requires joined-up government and the data sharing Act which has been put in place. Large sections of that Act were very recently commenced. These include the appointment of the data sharing board. We cannot just push the data out to everybody without consent. We must do it with consent and must preserve trust at the same time. If one gives one's information to one Department, it should not hand it over to another without one understanding why or where it is going. We have that balance between trust and convenience. People want to be able to access their Government services. They do not want to have to type in their address 50 times or to start from scratch every time they deal with a different Department. That is that balance between trust, joining up and data sharing. There are four critical parts to our new national digital strategy. The ICT strategy for public services is only one part. We also need to consider communications, broadband and business and ensure that our digital skills are up to date. Those are the four components of our national digital strategy, which is to come out very soon.

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