€170m spent on Government public relations

Some €170m of taxpayers’ money is spent on public relations by the Government and its agencies, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He admitted he does not know how much his strategic communications unit will cost in net terms, despite previously insisting it would be cost-neutral.

Mr Varadkar came under pressure from Labour leader Brendan Howlin about the prioritisation of “spin” over substance.

“In terms of the staffing levels, there will be six staff in the new unit. They will be seconded from other areas of the public service,” said Mr Varadkar.

“I do not yet know what the net cost will be but as soon as I do, I will let the deputy know. I do not know about the people being employed at departmental level. The deputy would have to ask the individual departments about that.”

He said a huge amount is spent by the Government and agencies on communications in all sorts of ways.

He said: “Approximately 750 people work across departments and different agencies in communications and public relations in some ways and, believe it or not, the total budget for all of that is €170m.

“Much of that is very valid. It is Tourism Ireland marketing Ireland abroad. It is Bord Bia marketing our food industry. It is advertisements advising people to go for their BreastCheck examination or have the influenza vaccine. It is all very good spending but a certain proportion of it is different departments and agencies advertising their own logos and so on. That is exactly the kind of thing I want to change.”

Mr Howlin called on Mr Varadkar to come clean on the real cost of the expansion of communications staff in the Government.

“It’s clear that the Taoiseach has not been upfront about the true cost of his new strategic communications unit. We were originally told that this new unit — which represents a significant investment in Government communications — would be ‘cost neutral to the exchequer’.”

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