Republic of Ireland news

Controversial government communications unit could be scrapped warns Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said his department's €5 million Strategic Communications Unit had become a "distraction". Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
David Young, Press Association

The taoiseach has said the government's controversial communications unit could be disbanded.

Leo Varadkar said his department's €5 million Strategic Communications Unit had become a "distraction" and scrapping it was one option that would be considered by an ongoing review into its functioning.

The unit has faced criticism after a furore around a public information campaign on the government's "Project Ireland 2040" infrastructure plan.

Political rivals claim paid-for stories placed in national and regional papers were not clearly marked as advertorial content.

That controversy fuelled persistent opposition claims that the unit is more interested in boosting Fine Gael's profile than disseminating government information.

Mr Varadkar last week asked the secretary general of his department to conduct a review of the unit.

He also ordered a tightening of protocols around the use of advertising.

On Monday, Mr Varadkar said scrapping the unit was one option being considered by the review.

"That's something that's going to have to be examined," he told RTÉ Radio One.

"The unit was set up with a view to modernising and professionalising government communications – it has had some success in that regard.

"It was set up as a unit to better explain the work of the government and now it's become a distraction from the work of government."

However, Mr Varadkar insisted there was "scant evidence" the unit was using public money to promote Fine Gael, and he accused rivals of focusing on the controversy as a way to distract attention from the benefits of the Project Ireland plan.

He added: "I think there were things that could have been done better so I issued very clear instructions as to how things should operate in the future when it comes to any paid-for advertising by government.

"Some things were too loose and that's why I have put in place those new rules so those things don't happen again and also we are carrying out a review, led by the sec gen, and all options are on the table for that review."

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