Welfare cheats campaign was a mistake, says official

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s controversial ‘welfare cheats cheat us all’ campaign was a mistake, the new head of the Department of Social Protection has said.

Department secretary general John McKeon made the admission under questioning by TDs, saying “putting the word ‘cheat’ beside the word ‘welfare’ ... in retrospect I believe it was a mistake”.

Appearing before the Public Accounts Commission, Mr McKeon was repeatedly questioned by TDs over the campaign which was instigated by Mr Varadkar in the run-up to the Fine Gael leadership election in June.

During the campaign, bus posters, radio adverts and billboards all ran the caption “welfare cheats cheat us all” and urged people to contact the Department of Social Protection if they knew of anyone incorrectly receiving State supports.

While the campaign was intended to protect State funds, it was heavily criticised for overstating the level of welfare fraud in order for then social protection minister Mr Varadkar to appeal to the Fine Gael voter base.

The view has been repeatedly denied by the Government despite the fact the campaign has effectively been dropped in recent months.

Mr McKeon said the campaign cost the state €163,000 and that it based on “the best advice from professional advisers in marketing, advertising and communications companies, so you take their advice and you run with it”.

He told Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry when asked if the campaign had “anything to do with [government strategic communications unit chief [John Concannon]:

“This is across-departmental. There is a group set up by the Department of the Taoiseach, yes. It was brought forward by the Department of the Taoiseach and approved by that management board.” Mr MacSharry said “so it’s origin is the new spin, sorry, communications unit.”

More in this Section

First look at the iconic Sea King helicopter named after Captain Dara Fitzpatrick

€250k to keep eight families in hotels

Davis differs on hard border

Key official ‘very optimistic’ on commissioner process

Breaking Stories

Samaritans to listen for more than 12,500 hours this Christmas

PSNI issue photo of mother who died on family boating holiday

Temperatures to drop as low as -5C tonight

Amnesty to fight order to return ’8th Amendment campaign’ donation to US based foundation


No wee feat: Daniel back in the charts with new album this Christmas

The League Of Gentlemen sketch troupe back on TV screens after 15 years

Get ready for the Jedi in latest Star Wars instalment

A heavy burden for such young shoulders caring for parents this Christmas

More From The Irish Examiner