PR unit criticism ‘points scoring’, says Taoiseach

The Taoiseach has dismissed as political points-scoring the Labour Party’s criticism of the Government’s new, €5m ‘good news’ unit.

PR unit criticism ‘points scoring’, says Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hit back yesterday, as he chaired a Cabinet meeting in Cork.

Labour leader, Brendan Howlin, wrote to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) about the allocation of €5m in the budget to the establishment of what had been flagged as a ‘cost-neutral’ strategic communications unit.

Mr Howlin wrote to Sipo on Thursday, raising two points about what he has portrayed as the Taoiseach’s “personal spin operation”.

Mr Howlin has asked Sipo to clarify if a significant quantity of social-media advertising on behalf of the Taoiseach’s Department amounts to an improper use of public funds for political ends.

Mr Howling has also queried if the staff in the unit have been recruited under the Public Service Management Act.

He said he wrote to the secretary general of the Government last week about these issues and was awaiting a response.

He said the disclosure of the €5m allocation for 2018, in the intervening period, required an intervention by Sipo.

But Mr Varadkar said: “It is really just party political points-scoring, to be honest.

“I think everyone will see that for what it is.

“It is the case, for as long as I can remember and for as long as any of us have been involved in politics, or in the business of press and media, that government departments and government agencies have communications budgets.

“I am sure that the Labour Party has a communications budget, no doubt in part funded by the taxpayer.

“It is just party politics and my focus today is on Brexit and on health reform.”

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