Department criticised for sharing Twitter posts by Taoiseach and minister that included Fine Gael logo

TD Shane Cassells. Photo: Tom Burke

Cormac McQuinn

THE Department of Housing has been criticised for using an official Twitter account to share posts by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Eoghan Murphy that included Fine Gael's logo.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells raised the issue with Housing Department boss John McCarthy at the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

He said the posts re-tweeted by the Rebuilding Ireland account weren't about a minister "turning a sod", they were posts by Mr Varadkar and Mr Murphy which featured housing statistics and the Fine Gael emblem.

Mr Cassells said: "This was a Fine Gael graphic indicating a particular message and I have a huge, huge difficulty with that because these guys are as cute as foxes and they’re trying to get that imagery out".

He argued: "a Department retweeting that for me has major ethical issues."

Mr Cassells said that in order to get the "fullness of the picture", the Rebuilding Ireland account would surely also be retweeting posts by party colleague and housing spokesman Darragh O'Brien that carry the Fianna Fáil logo pointing out failures in the area.

He raised the issue at the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee which is examining housing today.

Mr McCarthy said he wasn't familiar with the retweets which date from last week and said there was no directive from minister Murphy to the Department about such posts.

He said: "Well certainly I think in terms of content or statistics anything that we would tweet or retweet is designed to focus on facts."

But he told Mr Cassells: "I take your point fully. If something in a particular graphic that has a party political element attached to it I will certainly look into it."

Mr Cassells said the Fine Gael logo is "clearly evident".

Mr McCarthy said: "I will look at that".

Earlier the Department was accused of "spin" in how it presented figures on the number of social homes being built.

The PAC had heard from Mr McCarthy that roughly one in four homes constructed last year was social housing and the new-build figure was 85pc up on 2017.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy asked for new-build figures and was told they were 626 in 2017 and around 1,200 in 2018.

She claimed that given the numbers presenting the increase in 2018 as being 85pc was "spin" due to "the extent of the housing lists and the challenge ahead of us".

Ms Murphy added: "it gives impression that we’re really getting ahead of a crisis that’s there.

"I think we could do without presenting it in that particular type of way because I don't think it's a fair reflection on the extent of the crisis and how that crisis is being tackled."

She asked Mr McCarthy: "Do you accept that?"

Mr McCarthy said: "No I absolutely wouldn’t accept at all that there’s any element of spin involved here."

He said the governments Rebuilding Ireland plan had put in place clear targets for built, acquisition and support in the private rental sector including Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).

He said the build figures are published quarterly and "every one of those houses is a new build local authority or AHB [Approved Housing Body] house."