The Taoiseach has said the Government will examine if it can change the law to allow the Public Services Card to be a requirement for purposes other than accessing social welfare services.

Leo Varadkar's comments come in the wake of the Data Protection Commissioner finding that some of the uses of the card by the State were illegal.

The DPC found the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection's processing of personal data during the issuing of Public Services Cards for use in transactions between a person and a public body other than the department itself to be illegal.

The commission also found that the blanket and indefinite retention of documents and information provided by people applying for a Public Services Card contravenes data protection law.


What is the Public Services Card?


Speaking in Drogheda this afternoon, Mr Varadkar said there will need to be changes to retention of data and transparency in the wake of the report, and the legal basis for the public service card will have to be looked at.

He said while it was not Government policy to make the card a requirement for other public services, this would have to be examined in the wake of the ruling.

Mr Varadkar said he believed the card will exist in the future and that he supports the use of it, remarking: "It's still a good project notwithstanding the difficulties that have arisen."

The DPC has already agreed to appear before the Public Accounts Committee when the Dáil resumes in September. 

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That pre-dates the publication of her report on the Public Services Card.

Speaking today, the PAC chairman, Sean Fleming, said he intends to recommend that not only the Department of Employment and Social Protection but also the Department of Public expenditure and Reform come before PAC as a matter of urgency.

Mr Fleming said the issues raised by the Data Protection Commissioner's report extend well beyond employment and social protection and have implications across government departments.

There has been a mixed reaction from Opposition parties to the Taoiseach's proposal that the Government change the law to allow the Public Services Card be a requirement for purposes other than accessing social welfare services.

Fianna Fáil sources say that they are "not opposed to the idea in principle", but stipulate that the process would have to be "conducted in an open and transparent way".

The party said it had been consistently raising concerns about the issue, along with civil liberties groups, but the Government chose to ignore them.

Sinn Féin sources said the Taoiseach's suggestion was "simply not good enough" - particularly given the Government's errors had to be "exposed" by the Commissioner.

The party said the Government had been "wrong to force so many people" into obtaining the card, and the cost of that failure now had to be fully investigated by the Public Accounts Committee.

Labour Party sources say the Government needs to release the full report by the Commissioner - only then can the party judge if a legal change would be the appropriate course of action. 

Labour also raised an eyebrow at Mr Varadkar's assertion that he only learned of the problem a few days ago - pointing out that he was a former Minister for Social Welfare just a few years ago.

The Taoiseach also said people needed to keep their card, as it is still required for a number of social welfare related services and that they will still be able to use it for other services like passports and driving licenses, even though it will no longer be a requirement.

He said the report by the Data Protection Commissioner is being considered by Minister Regina Doherty and the Attorney General, and that it will be published as soon as possible.

He said he only found out about the issues with the card "in the last day or two" and that the idea of the card was to make it easier for people to access public services, to make public services more efficient, and to crack down on fraud.

Additional reporting: Paul Cunningham