Wednesday 19 December 2018

Strategic Communications Unit is under the spotlight

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has hit out at opposition TDs for comparing the PR campaign for the Government's €116bn spending plan, launched in Sligo, to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Mr Varadkar said the remarks were "beneath contempt" as he was criticised over the plan to spend €1.5m promoting Project Ireland 2040.

Labour Party TD Alan Kelly claimed this week that newspaper advertorials about the plan were "akin to something from the Third Reich, Goebbels territory".

And a furious row erupted in the Dáil Sligo/Leitrim Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry criticised the €45,000 cost of what he termed the plan's "Goebbels-style launch" in Sligo.

Fine Gael ministers immediately demanded Mr MacSharry withdraw the ­remarks and the Dáil was ­suspended amid the ensuing argument.

Later, Mr Varadkar criticised the comments by both Mr Kelly and Mr MacSharry as "wholly inappropriate".

Mr Varadkar claimed such remarks could amount to "belittling the Holocaust" and added: "Comparing an advertising campaign to the actions of the Nazis... I think that's beneath contempt."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he had never used words like 'Goebbels' in relation to what he described as a "propaganda campaign".

Mr Martin also said he hated "anybody using Nazi terms about anyone in a current parliamentary democracy".

He said any TD who made such remarks should withdraw them.

Mr Martin agreed the PR campaign issue was "light years away ... from what happened in the Third Reich".

But he also criticised Mr Varadkar, saying: "You do not like it, Taoiseach, when hard words are said about things you and your Government get up to."

The opposition has been critical of the ­Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) which was involved in the launch amid claims it is being used to ­promote Fine Gael.

Transport Minister Shane Ross clashed with Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty over the impact the SCU has had in their departments.

Mr Ross, who has sought details from SCU chief John Concannon about the current controversy, said the unit had not resulted in a "dramatic shift in the fortunes" in his role as a minister.

However, Ms Doherty said her life as a minister had "absolutely" been improved by Mr Concannon's PR team.

The Government has taken put two page advertisements in several regional and local newspapers outlining the Project Ireland 2040 Plan.

It's not the first time that Deputy MacSharry has been involved in a Dáil row.

Last month, the Dáil was suspended for five minutes after a heated row between the Healy-Rae TD brothers from Kerry and Deputy MacSharry over speaking rights.

Mr MacSharry claimed nobody else could get a look in to speak with the Independent Kerry TDs Danny and Michael Healy-Rae always getting to speak in the Dáil.

Mr MacSharry said his number 11 card entitled him to speak but the Healy-Raes rounded on him over entitlements to speak and both sides started shouting at each other.

Sligo Champion