Brendan Howlin: Taoiseach creating propaganda unit with public money

The leader of the Labour Party is accusing the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of using public money to create a propaganda unit.

Brendan Howlin has written to the Standards in Public Office Commission asking it to investigate €5m allocated in Budget 2018 to the Strategic Communications Unit.

"One of the greatest surprises contained in this Budget was the allocation of €5m to fund the Strategic Communications Unit, or spin operation that Leo Varadkar has created in his Department.

"The Taoiseach continues to argue that this will be cost neutral, but an allocation of €5m to this area means some other area of public spending is being denied those resources.

"This sum could have increased school book rental grants by a third, funded an increase in personal assistant hours for people with disabilities, or gone some way towards eliminating the waiting list for home care packages. Instead, the Taoiseach has allocated himself this funding to boost the popularity of the Fine Gael party."

The Taoiseach says the money was already being spent elsewhere in the civil service and has simply been pulled together for the new unit in his department.

However, Mr Howlin says SIPO should issue advice on the use of the funding and the creation of the unit.

"I have asked SIPO to cl arify two points today. Firstly, whether the deployment of a significant quantity of social media advertising by the Taoiseach's Department amounts to an improper use of public funds for political ends.

"And secondly, whether the staff recruited to serve in the Strategic Communications Unit have been appropriately recruited under the Public Service Management Act.

"This follows on from a letter to the Secretary General of the Taoiseach's Department last week, where I have asked him to clarify the level of expenditure planned for this unit, to outline the appropriateness of a programme of tracking polls that have been commissioned, and the intention of Government to continuing recruiting more communications staff.

"While I have not yet received a response to that letter, I believe that the events of the last 24 hours now require an intervention by the Standards in Public Office Commission."

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