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