Monday 19 March 2018

Dáil row erupts over Strategic Communications Unit

Leo Varadkar accused Micheal Martin of being 'venomous'
Leo Varadkar accused Micheal Martin of being 'venomous'
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has gone on the attack over criticism of the Strategic Communications Unit, accusing Michaél Martin of being “venomous” towards him.

Amid angry exchanges in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar defended the €5m unit from accusations that its civil servant staff were being politicised by Fine Gael.

He said the charges were based on “innuendo” and “conspiracy theories”.

And Mr Varadkar said the fact Fianna Fáil raised the issue of newspaper advertorials rather than the “national crisis” in the wake of Storm Emma showed their priorities.

Both Fiannna Fáil and Sinn Féin called for the SCU to be disbanded during a testy Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this afternoon.

Mr Martin said the Taoiseach was “in full denial” last week but has since agreed to a review of the unit.

He complained Mr Varadkar had caused a “blurring of the lines” between the independence of civil service and promotion of a political party.

The Cork TD alleged the Taoiseach’s office was trying to control all communications spending across the Government and some bodies like Bord Bia and Revenue.

Replying to Mr Varadkar’s assertion that he should be more focused on the fallout from the snow, the Fianna Fáil leader said: “I will decide what I raise and when I raise.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald  said the Taoiseach was protesting too much and she was “entirely impressed with your own political priorities”.

“The Taoiseach can rant and rave,” she said, while calling for him to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to explain the process behind the buying up of advertising space in regional newspapers.

“In the midst of all of this has been a very, very clear tactic to exploit the financial situation of regional media. That’s not lost on people either. The approach has been cynical and underhand,” she said.

Mr Varadkar replied by accusing Ms McDonald of engaging in “fake news” herself, saying she should supply some evidence of her claims.

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