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ID cards: Ireland goes where UK feared to tread



More than 3 million people enrol for Public Services Card

For once, Yes Minister got it wrong. Sir Humphrey Appleby’s verdict on compulsory identity card was: “The Germans will love it, the French will ignore it, and the Italians and Irish will be too chaotic to enforce it. Only the British will resent it.”

More than 30 years on, and contrary to stereotypes, Ireland seems to have successfully implemented an effectively mandatory card - and accompanied the process with a touch of British resentment.

According to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Public Services Card programme has met its target of more than 3 million sign-ups by the end of 2017.

The card displays the holder’s name, photograph and signature plus a magnetic strip with entitlement to social welfare payments such as pensions to be collected at post offices.

According to the department: “If you apply for, or are currently getting a social welfare payment (including child benefit) you will be asked to register for your Public Services Card.” Meanwhile all first-time passport applicants aged 18 and above who are resident in Ireland need to have the card.

SAFE process

Registration is a face-to-face procedure called SAFE (Standard Authentication Framework Environment) registration. Applicants bring documentary proof of identity and address and their mobile phone if they want the number verified by the department and to gain access to public services online.

“If you do not comply with the SAFE registration process your social welfare payments (including child benefit) and/or your social welfare entitlements (such as free travel) may be suspended,” the department warns.

In theory it is voluntary to obtain a card, but Irish Times columnist Karlin Lillington challenges the claim, saying that evidence is mounting that the cards are being treated as de facto national ID cards.

She referred to the state website, which says: “The card is now deemed necessary for a range of activities when an Irish resident interacts with the state. Not just to get social welfare benefits – as, surely, far fewer than 3 million adults access these – but to take a driver theory test, apply for a first-time or lost passport, submit citizenship applications, and to get “access to high value or personal online public services.”

Writing in The Irish Times, Lillington said: “Yet bizarrely, in this strange dance of inversion, even though you need a PSC to get a passport or apply for citizenship, and can use a passport to get a PSC, the PSC is not deemed adequate proof of identification to get a driving permit or licence. And it’s not a national ID card, but it kind of is, as it is now included as acceptable personal ID on the form to collect a package from An Post.”


UKauthority readers will remember that one iteration of the ID card proposed by the last Labour government was a voluntary “entitlement card”. This was abandoned in 2010 in one of the first acts of the Coalition Government.

While ministers were loathe to admit it, one of the drivers of the UK scheme was to comply with initiatives to enable cross-border public services across the EU. The Irish scheme provides for “the interoperability with EU member states in the context of citizen interaction”. Ironically, Brexit, with the need to confer appropriate rights on EU citizens in the UK, is now reviving the ID card agenda.

In Yes Minister, the hapless secretary of state for administrative affairs dismissed a proposal to make the card more acceptable by branding it the “Euroclub Express”. Perhaps fact will follow fiction after all.


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