Tuesday 21 August 2018

Taoiseach accused of using €5m taxpayers' money for 'propaganda unit'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Budget day 2018. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Budget day 2018. Photo: Mark Condren
John Downing

John Downing

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has come under direct attack for opening a so-called “propanganda unit” costing €5m.

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said the Taoiseach had already told the Dáil that the new “Strategic Communications Unit” would be “cost neutral.” But the Budget presented yesterday showed it would in fact cost €5m.

Mr Martin also questioned how the head of the unit, John Concannon, was appointed to the post. The Fianna Fáil leader said the project amounted to “a propaganda unit” and he dubbed it “a very dangerous development.”

“A blurring of boundaries has already occurred,” Mr Martin warned suggesting taxpayers’ money may be used to pursue Fine Gael interests.

The Taoiseach again insisted that the project would not cost extra money. He said his own Department of the Taoiseach was one of the few government departments to have its 2018 budget cut. The new unit would also undertake information campaigns to inform citizens of their entitlements, thereby saving on other spending.

Mr Varadkar denied that he had “handpicked” Mr Concannon, previously head of Creative Ireland and responsible for projects like the Gathering, for the job. The Taoiseach said he had approached Mr Concannon but it was the secretary general of his department, Martin Fraser, who made the appointment.

The Fianna Fáil leader said that sequence of events was difficult to believe.

Mr Varadkar also denied that he suppressed a Brexit report on implications for the Border during separate Dáil exchanges with the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, earlier in proceedings.

Mr Martin said it was “bad faith’’ on the part of the Taoiseach and Government not to share the report drawn up by the Revenue Commissioners which was leaked at the weekend.

But the Taoiseach hit back. ”Is Fianna Fail, the republican party, arguing now we should start training up border guards, getting dogs ready,

checking out sights for border posts and truck stops ?’’ Mr Varadkar asked.

The Taoiseach said Mr Martin’s outrage did not seem genuine to him since everybody knew of the consequences of a hard Border and the only solution was a political one, he added.

RTÉ European editor Tony Connelly reported on Sunday that the Revenue Commissioners did a big study of the Brexit implications for trade between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The report had said there would be an enormous physical and economic impact and place huge demands on the customs services.

Mr Varadkar said he had read the report recently and had certainly not suppressed it. It was a report from 2015 and he had not known for a long time that it had existed - but had no difficulty in having it published.

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