Howlin seeks Dáil rule change on Department PR spend

Issued 27 February 2018

Labour Party Leader, Brendan Howlin has today written to Leaders and groups in Dáil Éireann seeking their support and input on a proposed change to Dáil committee rules to ensure TDs would pre-approve any public relations and communications spend by Government Departments.

The proposed motion would be an instruction to select committees under the Dáil's own rules governing financial procedures.

Deputy Howlin said:

"Today I have written to Party Leaders and group members seeking their support and input on a proposed motion that would seek to ensure democratic oversight on the increasing amounts of public money being spent by Government departments on public relations and communication campaigns.

"The motion of instruction, if passed, would require all Select Committees, who are currently examining the estimates for each Government Department to approve in advance the purpose and general content of any proposed PR campaign.

"In effect, the Select Committee would be responsible for approving communication campaigns in advance, once the members are satisfied that public resources are only being spent in the public interest, and not conferring benefits on individual Ministers or parties in Government.

"The Dáil is responsible for appropriating money to the Government and has an oversight role in how those public resources are spent. The current lack of accountability must be addressed, and TDs are entitled to hold Government Departments that are now committing millions of euro to PR campaigns to account, and ensure these campaigns are not political in nature.

"The controversial use of advertorials and social media promotions, alongside cinema and radio ads has reached a new peak, and is causing serious concern to those of us elected to Dáil Éireann.

"The rise of State produced propaganda under the guise of the 'Government of Ireland' must be addressed once and for all. No one can blame struggling newspapers or radio stations for accepting adverts from the State. However the scale of the spend is well in excess of the resources available to opposition parties to rebut the claims of Government.

"For example, in relation to the both the National Planning Framework a large number of concerns has been raised, while the Labour Party has argued that the Capital Plan doesn't go far enough, and should be larger.

"The lack of public debate on the Ireland 2040 plan is deeply concerning as the power of the Government to control public discourse on the issue through the expenditure of €1.5 million is crowding out other voices. The material being produced is promotional and not informative. It is also specifically targeted to those areas that will benefit.

"It is time that TDs in Dáil Éireann held the Government of Ireland to account on how they are spending public money to dominate public debate and discourse in Ireland."


Notes to Editors - Text of Proposed Motion:

Motion re: Instruction to Select Committees Considering Estimates

It shall be an instruction to every Select Committee to which an Estimate has been referred for consideration under Standing Order 182 that the Committee shall not approve the grant of any money for the development or delivery of public relations or communication campaigns for or on behalf of the Government or a Department of State unless –

(a) the purpose and general content of the proposed campaign has been considered and approved by the Committee, and

(b) the Committee is satisfied that public resources are spent in furtherance of the public interest only and without conferring benefit on Ministers or on parties in Government.

– Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton, Alan Kelly, Jan O’Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Brendan Ryan, Seán Sherlock.