€5m set aside for PR unit sold as cost neu­tral

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - BUDGET 2018 - Fi­achra Ó Cion­naith

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar’s re­peated de­nials that his con­tro­ver­sial strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions unit will not bear any ex­tra costs, has been thrown into doubt. Bud­get doc­u­ments showed €5m has been set aside in 2018 for the unit.

Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and Sol­i­dar­ity-Peo­ple Be­fore Profit all rounded on Gov­ern­ment after the dis­clo­sure, de­spite of­fi­cial claims the costs will be can­celled out by sav­ings else­where.

Since the cre­ation of the strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions unit ear­lier this year, Mr Varad­kar has re­peat­edly said the in­ter­nal Gov­ern­ment group is cost-neu­tral and in­volves sec­ond­ing of­fi­cials from other de­part­ments.

How­ever, the Gov­ern­ment has not been ex­plained the costs of fill­ing the gaps, left in other de­part­ments, by sec­ond­ing of­fi­cials to the unit.

The Depart­ment of Fi­nance’s lengthy ex­pen­di­ture re­port, re­leased yes­ter­day as part of Bud­get 2018, said the new unit will, in fact, cost € 5m. “Work­ing with all de­part­ments and agen­cies, the new strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions unit aims to stream­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions for cit­i­zens, de­velop and de­liv­ery ma­jor cross-Gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paigns and im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tions ca­pac­ity across Gov­ern­ment,” the re­port says. It adds the planned cost next year is €5m — not zero.

In a state­ment to the Ir­ish

Ex­am­iner, a Gov­ern­ment spokesper­son said “clear com­mu­ni­ca­tions is a virtue” and that the new unit “will be cost neu­tral in 2018 by gen­er­at­ing ef­fi­cien­cies across Gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and en­sur­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion on ma­jor cam­paigns”.

But Dara Cal­leary (FF) said the unit is “a spin- ob­sessed ma­chine” whose bud­get could be used in­stead for home care pack­ages. Pearse Do­herty (SF) added: “That would pay for 56 SNAs. You be­lieve the im­age of Gov­ern­ment is more im­por­tant than front­line ser­vices.”

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