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Public Services Cards and the NCS

October 30, 2019

As members are aware, in order for parents to apply for the new National Childcare Scheme, they will require a valid account. A MyGov ID is essentially an online version of the Public Service Card (PSC). Parents who don’t have a PSC or who don’t want to use this system will have to wait until January to make a paper-based application. There has been a controversy over the legal status of the PSC that has been ongoing for the past number of years and over the summer, the Office of The Data Protection Commissioner issued a worrying report on the use of the card to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The report, which was released to the general public on September 17, effectively stated that the government has no legislative basis to require people to use the card for any government service that is not under the control of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. This includes for applications to the National Childcare Scheme (NCS).  The Government disagrees with this finding and continues to insist that it is legal to request that people use the card to make their application for support when the NSC goes live.

In the midst of the furore surrounding the finding of the Data Protection Commissioner, a very interesting report appeared in the Irish Examiner. The report set out how, up until January 2018 the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was planning to roll out a separate online application system for the Scheme, which would not have required the user to be in possession of a Public Services Card. This was stopped by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which has ultimate responsibility for the rollout of the PSC. Working with the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs, Anne Rabbitte TD, Early Childhood Ireland arranged for two Parliamentary Questions on this issue to be submitted to the relevant ministers.

In his response, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform confirmed that his Department ordered the alternative system be scrapped and incorporated into the existing MyGov system because allowing the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to incorporate its own online system would serve to spend “taxpayers’ money on two different systems to do the exact same thing, where one reusable, legal and secure alternative exists”.. The response from the Minister for Children is much more “matter of fact” and boils down to “we were developing an alternative method of application but stopped when we were told we had to use the PSC instead.” The full responses from each  Minister can be seen here and here.  The responses were also picked up by the Irish Examiner.

The government has continued to assert that the Data Protection Commissioner is incorrect in her finding that that there is no legal basis for using the Card by most Departments, and has said it will be challenging her findings in court. It is not clear if any legal proceedings have commenced. 

Until this dispute is resolved, MyGov  will be the only method through which parents can apply for support when the National Childcare Scheme goes live. The paper-based application will be available from January. As well as submitting Parliamentary Questions, Early Childhood Ireland has written to Minister Zappone seeking clarification on this issue.  We will also continue to monitor developments closely and keep members abreast of any developments if and when they happen. 

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