Thursday 22 August 2019

Varadkar wanted an extra €1m for 'spin' unit salaries

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wanted to spend a massive €1m of taxpayers' money on salaries for his controversial strategic communications unit (SCU).

The €1m demand for funding was in addition to the €5m he received to pay for running the State-sponsored communications unit which has been the subject of sustained criticism by Opposition political parties.

It has also emerged the Government spent €6,520 on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube videos in the lead-up to this year's budget. The Government bombarded social media with videos of Mr Varadkar and Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe ahead of the budget. The spending was revealed in Freedom of Information documents given to Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne. Mr Byrne said in the Irish political context this was a "huge amount of money" to be spend on social media ads.

"This clearly is the SCU dipping its toe in the water in terms of social media spending and we can expect a lot more of it," he said.

Separate Freedom of Information documents received by the Sunday Independent show how the Taoiseach's Office requested €5m for the running of the SCU and an additional €1m for salaries. Mr Varadkar's office proposed €1m would come from the communications budgets of other departments. The request was to spend the entire extra €1m on the SCU.

However, the final revised estimates show Mr Varadkar received an additional €900,000 to spend on salaries of staff across the department. This included the SCU along with additional staffing to deal with Brexit, data protection and the Citizens Assembly. The document said the SCU will find €5m of savings through "cross governmental collaboration on major projects, efficient use of technology platforms, consolidated media buying along with streamlining participation in national events".

Sunday Independent

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