Leo Varadkar faces PAC grilling over Strategic Communications Unit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar could be hauled before a powerful Dáil committee to answer questions over the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) controversy as soon as next week under plans to be finalised this morning.

The cross-party public accounts committee (PAC) will make a decision on whether to demand that Mr Varadkar attends an upcoming meeting on the scandal or to limit questions to back-room officials after a series of requests from opposition parties.

Correspondence to the committee seen by the Irish Examiner shows Fianna Fáil TDs Marc MacSharry and Bobby Alyward, Sinn Féin TDs David Cullinane and Jonathan O’Brien, Labour TD Alan Kelly and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy have all insisted the SCU must be discussed by the committee.

In a letter to the PAC in recent days, Sinn Féin TDs Mr Cullinane and Mr O’Brien said Mr Varadkar must be among those to attend, and that the SCU public grilling should take place as soon as next week at a specially convened PAC meeting.

The Sinn Féin TDs have demanded SCU chief John Concannon and Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser should also appear before the committee at the same time.

Social Democrats TD Ms Murphy said Mr Fraser and Department of Finance secretary general Robert Watt are the appropriate people to attend as accounting officers who are the formal point of contact with the PAC on budgetary and value for money issues.

Fianna Fáil TD Mr MacSharry said that in addition to Mr Varadkar, Mr Fraser and Mr Concannon, all advertising people working with the SCU on the Ireland Project 2040 advertorials and any PR firm sub-contracted to perform further work should also appear.

Mr MacSharry’s view, supported by Mr Alyward, is based on “legitimate concerns” State money is being used for political reasons, a claim repeated by Labour’s Mr Kelly in his own correspondence to the committee.

While no decision on whether to hold a meeting on the SCU has yet been made, the PAC will debate the matter in public session this morning.

News of the imminent hearing comes as Mr Varadkar is at risk of facing two further grillings over the same issue in the coming weeks. While the communications committee wants officials to attend, Mr Varadkar yesterday told the Dáil he will address the SCU debacle at the finance committee later this month on his return from the St Patrick’s Day US trip.

The finance committee meeting will take place as part of an already scheduled discussion over value for money issues at the Department of the Taoiseach.

Meanwhile, the Government is facing yet more criticism linked to the SCU, after it failed to clarify last night why it gave Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave a private briefing on the unit.

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