Government to Introduce Identity Card Scheme During General Election

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In an initiative launched by the Minister for Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív, about three million 'Public Services Cards' will begin to issue in the coming months to 'people over 16 years of age who can access public services'. The 'Public Services Card' will include security features such as laser engraving personalisation similar to that used in the latest Irish passports, a contact chip, a signature, photograph and an expiry date.

The roll-out of this disguised identity card scheme will involve a registration process which will include the collection of photographs and signatures from over-16s.

The minister claims that these cards are being introduced to combat fraud - "Features such as photographs and signatures and electronic card authentication are expected to minimise the rate of fraud and error arising from incorrectly identified and authenticated individuals ... time spent on establishing identity and authentication will be reduced on both sides, leading to significant potential savings nationally". However the intention to issue these cards to the entire adult population would suggest that more than simplifying access to services is on the state's mind.

Ó Cuίv also said "The facilities for the production and issue of the Public Services Card are now in place and undergoing final testing. The first test cards were produced to schedule in December last. As Minister for Social Protection, I am committed to having the cards issued as soon as possible."

Once these cards are introduced and widely distributed it would be a small step to convert them into de facto identity cards by legislating requirements on people to carry them at all times and to produce them on request by a Garda, probably by amendments to the Public Order Act. Also, the introduction of these cards without either public debate or legislation in the middle of a general election campaign is a particularly worrying development from our political class, especially given the silence of the opposition parties on this issue so far.

Concerns have already been raised by Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties; “We can only assume that this is a political stunt by Eamon O Cuiv TD, although it remains a mystery how spending €24 million of taxpayers’ money on an unproven scheme would bolster anyone’s electoral credibility. The first act of the new coalition government in the UK was to scrap the costly farce of the UK’s ID card scheme.

That Eamon O Cuiv should suggest that it is acceptable for him to press ahead with such an unproven scheme in Ireland after the Dail has risen is nothing short of profligate”.

WORDS: Ray

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