Friday 20 September 2019

Varadkar accused of misleading Dáil over €5m 'spin unit' cost

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of misleading the Dáil after it emerged his controversial Strategic Communications Unit will cost the taxpayer a massive €5m.

Mr Varadkar previously said the first-of-its-kind public relations division in the Taoiseach's office would save the taxpayer money and also said the division would be cost neutral.

However, the Government's expenditure report for 2018 shows €5m has been budgeted for the publicity unit next year.

Last night, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the suggestion the new unit would not cost the State any money was "utterly false".

"Clearly it is a major propaganda agency that is going to profligate for Leo and the Government at the taxpayers' expense and we have been misled about this," Mr Howlin said.

He also noted the €5m assigned to the communications unit was more than the combined amount of State funding given to Opposition parties. During the Dáil budget debate, Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary called the communications division the "Government's cheerleading unit".

In response to parliamentary questions by Fianna Fáil, Mr Varadkar previously said: "In fact, it (the unit) is likely to give rise to a significant increase in value for money and a reduction in overall expenditure, over time."

A spokesman for the Government yesterday said that the communications unit would be cost neutral next year by "generating efficiencies across government departments and ensuring collaboration on major campaigns".

"The spending will come from within existing resources," he added. "Furthermore, the overall budget for the Department of the Taoiseach is 2pc lower in 2018."

Former Creative Ireland director John Concannon is heading up the division, along with five civil servants who have been seconded to the new division in the Taoiseach's office.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the unit would make "more efficient use of resources" in departments, but denied the €5m spend on publicity was going to waste before it was allocated to the Taoiseach's department.

Irish Independent

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