11. Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details of the media campaign designed to promote the public services card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 46856/17 asked on 09 Nov 2017)
Deputy Dara Calleary: There has been quite considerable controversy around the public services card. The Data Protection Commissioner is investigating issues around it under section 10 of the Data Protection Act. Can the Minister outline how much money is being used to promote the use of the public services card and whether the expenditure of that money is being suspended pending the outcome of the data protection review?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: As the Deputy will be aware the card is a means of assisting the delivery of public services to people who need them.
The Department is currently engaged in a procurement process for a media campaign to promote the awareness and benefits of the scheme.
The campaign is likely to be delivered by radio, digital and print channels and is expected to begin in the coming months. The primary objectives of the campaign are: to improve understanding of the card; to highlight services that will be available; and to let people know where they can find out more detailed information about the card and MyGovID.
To date, 2.89 million of these cards have been issued. A number of cards have been re-issued or have expired. The cards are in broad use.
Despite the comment and debate on the issue at the end of the summer and into this term, these are cards one of the purposes of which is to assist us where individuals have to keep supplying the same information repeatedly to the State to access different services. For example, the legislation on data sharing and governance, that the Minister, Deputy O’Driscoll, referred to earlier on, will provide another building block in how we can further provide services more effectively and conveniently to citizens. We are making progress in so doing but it is a source of frustration for citizens that we cannot do even more, and that is what this card is about.
Deputy Dara Calleary: There is a new Minister in the UK. I did not realise we had one here today as well. The Minister had rugby on his mind.
Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran: The Minister is getting a bit tired.
Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Deputy Calleary is embarrassing me now.
Deputy Dara Calleary: In the context of the concerns raised, particularly with an investigation under way by the Data Protection Commissioner, will the procurement for a service for promoting the card proceed or will the campaign be delayed until that report is filed, and is there any update on that report?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: My voice is not as fresh as I thought. Apologies to the Minister, Deputy O’Donovan, for what I have just done.
Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: We will have to leave Deputy Calleary out of the finance committee.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: On the questions Deputy Calleary put to me, the procurement process is not being delayed. It is under way. Because we have not got to the point at which the campaign has even begun - we are not at a point yet, indeed, in which the campaign can even be paused - my understanding is that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has engaged with the Data Protection Commissioner on many of the issues that she raised, as she is entitled to do, around the period in which this card was the subject of much debate.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: I was involved in introducing the card. As long as it is a convenience, I have nothing against the card. Some comment has been a little bit over the top.
There are two comments I would make. One is on the design of the card. I have to say the writing on it, for example, the PPS number, is very small for older people. It is much better on the medical card where it is much bigger. It is a small, but important, point because this is used commonly by older people accessing services.
The second issue is more germane. Zealot approaches cause chaos. What I mean by a “zealot approach” is this. I had a case of somebody who wanted to get a driver’s licence. He could not get the driver’s licence because he did not have a card and could not get the card because he did not have a driver’s licence and did not have a passport. Social welfare took a practical view and issued the card on reasonable evidence of an out-of-date licence. The point that seems to have arisen is that it is being demanded as an absolute, only way of identifying oneself whereas, in my view, and I ask the Minister to consider this, in most cases one would have to produce suitable evidence of one’s identity which would include a passport, a card or other suitable identification because the people who likely do not have it are older people who are well settled in the community and who are easily identified. If, however, the Department states one must have the card the most likely person to get trapped is somebody who is known to everybody but the rule states the person has to have the card and he or she gets caught, literally, in a vicious circle. Could the Minister deal with that issue?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: In relation to the Deputy’s first point, I myself have the card and I am glad to hear Deputy Ó Cuív appreciates and acknowledges the role that it can play.
I will take on board the point the Deputy made about the writing on it and I will pass it on to my colleagues who are working on it. As the Deputy will be aware, the people who are making the greatest use of it at present tend to be our older citizens. They are accessing it either for free travel or to access payments to which they are entitled. I am not aware of the issue having been raised to date but it is a fair point.
On the zealot approach that Deputy Ó Cuív talked about, we have a challenge here. We want to get to a point where this card is used by citizens to access services because I believe the issue of ensuring that we are providing valuable services to those who are meant to get them will become more important in the future.
I have my own experience in this area. We expect public services and staff involved in dealing with this issue on the front line to try to accommodate people and, indeed, they do so. If people have particular issues, we ask them to ensure that they are dealt with sensitively and respectfully. It seems that the Deputy had such an experience in terms of the particular matter with which he dealt.