With our long history of colonial and ecclesiastical misrule most Irish people have an instinctive dislike of unnecessary restrictions or rules being imposed upon us by those in authority. Which may explain the concerted effort by the minority Fine Gael government to introduce a mandatory national identification card by the back door, and with the connivance – or acquiescence – of Fianna Fáil. Both parties of the right and centre-right have long flirted with the idea of a Continental-style ID system but have been wary of the opposition it would whip up. So instead they are using the seemingly innocuous mechanism of the voluntary Public Services Card (PSC), a form of identification which can be used to interact with most state agencies, by gradually making its use obligatory.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has confirmed that by the end of next year, anyone applying to renew their passport will need to present a copy of their public services card.
The card is already required when applying for a passport in certain circumstances. However, Coveney said this morning that it will be needed in all cases from late next year.
The ID card has been under the spotlight recently after a number of stories of people losing out on public services because they do not have one.
There is no legal requirement for Irish citizens to hold the card, but in order to access welfare benefits, the Department of Social Protection requires applicants to have one.
On Friday, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said the card was not compulsory – but was mandatory for her department.
The logic of the “not compulsory” but “mandatory” argument will be lost on most people. If politicians are forced to use such underhand and clearly duplicitous tactics to introduce a policy then its merits and purpose need to be questioned. As solicitor Simon McGarr points out in an excellent analysis of the new rules:
…what we have here is a national ID card system which has never been debated by the Oireachtas, isn’t based on any primary legislation and has been introduced (where there is any legal justification for it cited at all) by wilfully forcing a new interpretation onto old legislation.
Now, you can issue a person with an ID card without a legal basis, if they consent to it. Of course you can. The problem is, in order for that consent to be valid under EU law, it can’t have been compelled. It can’t have been extracted on pain of penury at the loss of your pension, of the child benefit you rely on or your unemployment benefit.
And a person can’t give consent if they haven’t been clearly told to what purposes the data they are agreeing to hand over will be put.
Until we have a full and open debate on the merits of a national ID card (and the identity index database those cards extend from) we cannot decide if we are happy with the consequences of such a plan or (as happened in the UK) whether we decide it is a dangerous and illiberal step.
If the Government wants to legislate for an ID card, let it first propose the plan and see it through the Oireachtas.
Personal data is legitimately gathered and used by the state on the basis that it is a safe guardian of citizens’ fundamental data and privacy rights. Without trust that the state will do the right thing, the legitimacy of that collection breaks down.
If the state won’t even admit to what it is doing, how does it expect citizens to trust that it will do the right thing?
Simply put, ministers from a minority government are bending existing legislation to force a national ID card upon the country using the shakiest of legal grounds and with no democratic mandate to do so.
This is the water charges Mark II.