Education Minister Norma Foley’s department hired a high-profile public relations firm before informing Cabinet about errors in the calculated grades system for the Leaving Cert.
The Department of Education sought the services of The Communication Clinic the day after errors in the system emerged.
However, Ms Foley did not inform some of her own Cabinet colleagues of the mistakes in the grading system at a meeting a week later.
In September, Ms Foley apologised after 6,100 students were affected by two errors in the calculated grades system which led to 6,870 grades being impacted.
There was controversy as to when members of Cabinet were informed of the error made in calculated grades, with the issue not being raised at a Cabinet meeting.
Ms Foley was informed of the errors on September 23 and contacted Taoiseach Micheál Martin about the issue that same day.
The Department of Education then hired The Communications Clinic, chaired by communications specialist Terry Prone, the following day, September 24.
New documents show The Communications Clinic was hired on September 24, 2020, “to support the calculated grades’ projects” until October 3 at a cost of €19,481.
Ministers Eamon Ryan and Simon Harris were informed of issues with the calculated grades on Friday, September 25.
However, the three coalition party leaders only discussed the two errors on Monday, September 28. The Cabinet was not informed of the errors when they met the next day on September 29.
Details of the errors were eventually made public by Ms Foley on Wednesday, September 30, at a press conference, after an earlier debate in the Dáil.
Social Democrat TD Gary Gannon, who obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, said once the errors were discovered, the “first consideration” of the minister was to hire a public relations firm.
“When it emerged that there was a problem with calculated grades, the first consideration of the minister was, how can they spin this, how can they bring someone on board whose job is essentially, to make politicians look good.”
He called on Ms Foley to make a statement on whether the agency was told of the two errors before Cabinet.
“The minister needs to clarify if her first consideration was self-preservation, rather than actually detailing the problem to her Cabinet colleagues who then could have communicated it to the wider public.”
A spokesperson for the department said that The Communications Clinic provided “communications services” to the department, which is “committed to clear and effective communication with stakeholders and The Communications Clinic was engaged in this context”.
They said that once the Taoiseach was made aware of the errors, “the relevant parties were subsequently informed of the issue”.
“It is common practice for Government departments to engage external companies to support specific projects when required,” added the spokesperson.
The FOI documents show that the Department of Education spent €51,237 on services from communications firms in 2020.
This included two new contracts with The Communications Clinic and McQuaid Media and Communications, worth €19,481 and €6,000 respectively.