Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon
In the Dáil…
In response to questions about the Public Services Card from Sinn Féin, the Taoiseach spoke glowingly about the PSC – telling the Dáil he himself has a PSC.
It follows the eventual publication of a damning Data Protection Commission report about the card by Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty last night and her department’s refusal to comply with the DPC’s orders in relation to the card.
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that “like the majority of people in this House”, he’s a “big supporter” of the PSC and he thinks it’s worked “extremely well”.
“Over three million people in Ireland now have a Public Services Card, including me, and when people are asked what they think about the Public Services Card that they have, over 80 per cent of people are satisfied with it and prefer it to what they would have had before which would have been a number of different books and passes – pension books, children’s allowance books, free travel passes, social welfare services cards – it’s replaced all of those and given people one simple card which enables them to access public services.”
“And that’s exactly what the Public Services Card is. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s what it was intended to be in 1998 and in 2005 when it was introduced in legislation. It’s there to assist people to access public services and to make public services more efficient to deliver.
“It is not primarily about fraud but it does have benefits in terms of deterrence, reducing fraud aswell but it’s primary purpose is to make it easier for people to access the public services and benefits that they’re entitled too and also makes it possible to be more efficient for Government departments and agencies and to provide those public services.”
“…in terms of legal advice, it’s not our practice to publish legal advice, either from the AG [Attorney General] or outside counsel, we won’t be doing that. But obviously, if this case goes to the court, goes to the circuit court or the High Court thereafter then of course that legal advice will be made public at that point and that is normal procedure when it comes to litigation.”
He later added:
“…In relation to the National Childcare Scheme, as you know, that’s coming into effect later this year to provide increased subsidies for childcare for tens of thousands of families across the State and for the first time about 10,000 middle income families will qualify for childcare subsidies for the first time. The vast majority of these families, about 80 per cent, have the Public Services Card already and will be able to apply for those subsidies and increased subsidies online.
“And I think the vast majority of them will do that because they will see the convenience of just being able to take out your Public Services Card, apply for those childcare subsidies online and get those subsidies without going through the rigmarole of filling in forms, getting in photographs, producing banks statements and all of that. However, for those who want to, that option will be available.
“So, there will be an option for those who don’t want to get a Public Services Card. But mark my words – people will vote with their feet and their keyboards and the vast majority of those parents will use the Public Services Card to apply for that subsidy because it makes sense.
“Moving online, digitisation is the future, providing public services to people in this country but the alternative will be there.”
Mr Varadkar went on to say that the department has yet to receive an enforcement order from the DPC and that the DPC has declined an invitation to meet with Ms Doherty’s department.
He also said “this is a democracy” and “the right of appeal is part of a democracy”.
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Earlier: The Regina Monologues