Taoiseach must answer questions on his new Communications Unit

Issued 30 August 2017

Labour leader Brendan Howlin has described the Taoiseach's Strategic Communications Unit as a vanity propaganda project, and a means of providing further communications advice to the Taoiseach without properly appointing special advisers.

Deputy Howlin said:

"Never before has the establishment of a communications unit been handled with so much secrecy. We have been told who will head up the new unit, but not his salary or grade. We don't know how many people will work in the unit. And we don't know what it will cost the taxpayer.

"The Taoiseach said in reply to my questions to him on 12th July that he does not 'believe an adequately coherent message is coming from Government'. This new unit he plans is in effect a parallel, propaganda unit to be established within the Department of An Taoiseach for political purposes. It will replicate the work of the Government Information Service but with the new aim of achieving political objectives.

"It has happened in the past that individual civil servants have been seconded to work for Government Ministers. But in such cases, these have been acknowledged as political appointments. The Taoiseach cannot hand pick staff from across the public sector, and then claim that they are not political appointments. If this new unit does not have a political purpose, then all roles within it, including the most senior role, should be advertised and open to all civil servants to apply for.

"If the Taoiseach had said publicly that the Government Information Service was in need of reform, that might have been reasonable. But to create a parallel structure, with what appears to be exactly the same role description as that of the GIS is bizarre. It's about time the Taoiseach outlined the exact purpose of having two such units in his Department, the grade and salaries of the head of the unit, how appointments are being made to it, and the additional cost to the taxpayer of this unit."