Tuesday 17 October 2017

Government PR unit 'will have up to five staff'

Last week, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of 'turning the civil service into a PR machine for Fine Gael'. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Last week, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of 'turning the civil service into a PR machine for Fine Gael'. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Darragh McDonagh

The Government's new Strategic Communications Unit will be staffed by as many as five people when it becomes fully operational, it has been revealed.

There are two civil servants currently attached to the unit: former Creative Ireland director John Concannon and Brexit communications co-ordinator Andrea Pappin, earning salaries of up to €140,000 and €102,000 respectively.

A Government spokesperson said that as many as three others were likely to join them in the new communications unit, although these were expected to be redeployed from elsewhere in the civil service.

Full details of the unit will be outlined to ministers on Wednesday, when a memo is brought before Cabinet. This process was intended to ensure "across-the-board ministerial buy-in", a spokesperson said.

Government press secretary Feargal Purcell said the new unit would "dovetail" with the existing Government Information Service (GIS).

"I would expect additional people to be redeployed into the Strategic Communications Unit," he said. "Right now, it's just two; and I would not expect it to go beyond five."

However, Mr Purcell said that the unit would not result in additional costs to the taxpayer, apart from the cost of replacing Mr Concannon as director of Creative Ireland.

He said it was "unlikely" that an additional person would be employed to replace Ms Pappin in her former role at the Department of the Taoiseach.

The establishment of the new unit has been criticised by Opposition parties. Last week, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of "turning the civil service into a PR machine for Fine Gael" by setting up the new unit in parallel to the GIS.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has described the new unit as a "propaganda vanity project" and expressed concern that its establishment had been surrounded with secrecy.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny said: "I find it frustrating the Taoiseach's main priority seems to be his own image, rather than the serious problems, such as housing and health."

Irish Independent

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