Wednesday 24 October 2018

Varadkar orders review of Project Ireland €1.5m publicity campaign amid controversy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the Cabinet meeting and launch of Project Ireland 2040 at IT Sligo. Photo: James Connolly
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the Cabinet meeting and launch of Project Ireland 2040 at IT Sligo. Photo: James Connolly
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A general review of the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit has been ordered in the week of controversy over advertorials for Project Ireland 2040.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has written to the Secretary General of his department seeking a number of changes to the protocols involved in buying up advertising space.

It follows accusations from Opposition parties that the SCU had blurred the lines between normal editorial content and adverts as part of a campaign to promote the National Development Plan.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin has also complained that a number of Fine Gael politicians, including an election candidate, appeared in some advertorials.

In his letter, the Taoiseach says that any sponsored or paid-for feature articles “should continue to be clearly identifiable”.

He said this is best achieved by including the ‘Government of Ireland’ logo and stating clearly that the article is  'advertorial', 'advertisement', 'sponsored', a 'commercial feature' or a ‘special feature’.

In a change of policy Mr Varadkar has also instructed that where media partnerships or agencies are used, final editorial control or ‘sign-off’ should remain with the Department of An Taoiseach.

He told the Dáil this week that the SCU did not have final sign-off on adverts that appeared in recent days.

The letter also notes that anybody interviewed for an advertorial and infomercial should be asked for permission to use their name in that context.

In a final point Mr Varadkar said politicians and public representatives should not feature in any paid-for content by the Government other than relevant ministers.

Martin Fraser, the Secretary General, is to conduct the general review of the unit and revert with further recommendations to bring to cabinet.

It is understood Mr Varadkar made the move after discussions about the political row with ministers.

Independent ministers Katherine Zappone and Shane Ross have publicly raised concerns about the advertising campaign.

The SCU is in the middle of a €1.5m awareness campaign for Project Ireland 2040.

It includes a series of advertorials in most regional newspapers, and in national titles including the ‘Irish Independent’, ‘Irish Times’ and ‘Irish Examiner’. 

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