The Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which was established in the Oireachtas late last year, has held its first meeting on the expanded use of the innocuously named Public Services Card (PSC). Over the last several years the controversial PSC has developed into a national ID card in all but name, its use made obligatory across a number of government departments and agencies. This, supposedly, was not the intent of the system when it was rushed into law back in 2011 by the outgoing Fianna Fáil minister, Éamon Ó Cuív. However, even at the time, many critics of the legislation correctly predicted that it would become the thin edge of a Big Brother wedge, with a negative impact on the rights of citizens when dealing with the State. (Ironically the greatest enthusiasm for the new regulations was shown by the centre-left Labour Party, particularly under its former leader, Joan Burton, during her disastrous tenure as the Minister for Social Protection)
In a submission to the Oireachtas committee this morning, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) pointed out that there is no clear legal basis for the increased or mandatory use of the Public Services Card, and no dedicated oversight of the vast database of highly sensitive information it has accrued. Just as noteworthy was this claim by Liam Herrick, the director of the organisation and an adviser to the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, as reported by The Journal:
This is not something beneficial to the state financially. So far the project has cost €60 million. The State says it has garnered somewhere between €1.7 million and €2 million in savings. It is costing the State money…
Which begs the question. If the introduction of the PSC system has been a financial failure, its poorly legislated and expanded use exceeding the original 2011 budget estimate of €24 million, in return for less than €2 million in savings, what purpose does it serve? Unless, as many observers have now concluded, it was always intended to become a compulsory ID card for the citizens of the State, using the same legislative sleight-of-hand as the now scrapped “water charges”, snuck in the backdoor by the establishment parties in Dáil Éireann.