Wednesday 19 December 2018

Varadkar attacked over €5m 'spin unit'

Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin Photo: Tony Gavin
Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin Photo: Tony Gavin
John Downing

John Downing

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

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

Mr Martin also questioned how the head of the unit, John Concannon, was appointed. He said the project amounted to "a propaganda unit" and 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 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 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.

"Mr Concannon wasn't appointed by me. I approached him and asked him would he be available. He was appointed by the secretary general of the department," Mr Varadkar said.

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

"We understand your obsessions with communications but in essence there are important issues about the politicisation of the civil service," he said.

Mr Varadkar also denied he suppressed a Brexit report on implications for the Border during separate Dáil exchanges. Mr Martin said it was "bad faith'' not to share the report drawn up by the Revenue Commissioners which was leaked at the weekend.

Irish Independent

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