Time for Taoiseach to disband the Strategic Communications Unit

Issued 2 March 2018

After the review launched by the Taoiseach into his own Strategic Communications Unit, Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin has called on him to now disband the discredited unit; to cease the use of public money for partisan and unethical advertisements with the sole promotion of his Government; and to support measures to ensure the Dáil has sufficient oversight of the spending of public money on PR campaigns.

Deputy Howlin said:

"Due to the serious weather over the last 24 hours, I chose not to respond to the Taoiseach’s announcement of a review of advertorial rules yesterday.

"I noted however that having spent the week defending his SCU that he chose to make the announcement of a review on the day we faced our most serious weather challenge for forty years. It seems that the spirit that gave rise to the SCU is, in that sense, alive and well

"Let’s call a spade a spade - this review is a nonsense. It is ridiculous that the Taoiseach should seek a review conducted by his most senior civil servants into an entity established at his direction and by those same civil servants. This is a unit for which he handpicked the head and which frankly defines not just his leadership of this Government but his modus operandi as Taoiseach.

"Having established a civil service unit to break the rules of civil service impartiality in this clear cut fashion, the Taoiseach wants us to forget the other key bedrock of our political system – that he is responsible for what is done in his name.

"It is not simply the nature of the advertorials that are at issue here, though they have been deliberately deceptive – to the point in some cases of effectively acting as donations to the Fine Gael party.

"It is simply the sheer scale of the operation envisaged. A five person unit mushrooming into a 15 person unit. No additional cost then became a €5 million budget, while €1.5 million is committed to promoting a Government plan, decided by Fine Gael with which the opposition have highlighted many problems.

"The Taoiseach’s references to what happened in 2007 is also deeply disturbing. The reforming efforts of the last decade was to ensure we avoid the mistakes made in the past. The Taoiseach may well throw mud at Fianna Fáil, but it is he who is self-confessedly replicating their behaviour. I found the Taoiseach’s refusal to accept the blindingly obvious on the News at One yesterday – that he identified himself as a student of Bertie Ahern – to be deeply disappointing. It was to blatant, so clearcut, you’d have to worry why he is being evasive about it now.

"The last week has shown the danger of the Strategic Communications Unit and it is time the Taoiseach moved to disband it. He must stop the use of blatantly unethical advertising that is clearly promoting a political point of view, and together we must ensure measures are put in place to provide oversight by the Dáil of PR campaign spending by Departments of State."