Sunday 22 September 2019

Taoiseach under fire for using Government jet and employees to film 'party political videos'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Pic: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s weekly videos have become such a talking point in Leinster House that he has promised to post them on the official Government website.

The new Taoiseach came under fire for the second day in a row over his videos, this time for having Government employees film them.

Fianna Fáil has objected to two videos posted on Fine Gael’s social media channels last week.

“As well as using the Government jet to film a party political video, the Taoiseach did the same at the Irish Embassy [in Estonia] when he met the Dutch Prime Minister,” Micheál Martin told the Dáil.

“Yesterday, he used the dismissive tone that is sometimes his trademark during Leaders' Questions and implied that anyone questioning him was calling for a return to typewriters and fax machines. 

“As the Taoiseach knows, for years every party has posted social media videos. However, the Taoiseach is the first to see no distinction between his official role and his party political role. To him, everything seems to be part of the campaign for Leo.”

Mr Martin asked how he “squares” having Government employees help with his videos with “past practice and ethics legislation”.

“It is a very fundamental point. It is not about the mere utilisation of videos. Rather, as I have said it is about the utilisation of Government employees and facilities for party political purposes,” the Opposition leader said.

In reply, the Taoiseach argued that neither of the videos in question contained any political content.

“The content is entirely about the business and work of the day - my work as Taoiseach. There is nothing party political in them whatsoever but in order to allay the Deputy's concerns, in future, I will post them on before they are posted on any other account.

“I am not sure if that makes any difference in practice but if it does allay the Deputy's concerns, I am happy to make that change,” Mr Varadkar said.

Earlier during an exchange with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, the Taoiseach said he was glad his videos were “having some traction anyway, at least in terms of getting accurate messages across, not only to the general public but also to opponents”.

Mr Adams responded: “I assure the Taoiseach that I am an avid watcher of his videos. I think he could relax a wee bit in terms of his delivery but so far, so good. He is doing not so badly.”

Mr Adams, who is well-known for posting about his teddy bear on social media, added: “I would commend Twitter to him as well as a means of communication with the masses.”

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