Leinster House, Dublin 2
During leader’s questions concerning the five million plus-state funded Strategic Communications Unit.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said:
“I said the unit would be cost neutral, I never said it would cost nothing. Obviously any unit that has employees and is involved in information campaigns, of course will cost something. I said it would be cost neutral and if you look in the Budget book, at the Department of An Taoiseach’s vote you’ll see my overall vote, the overall budget for my department is down, it’s down about a billion and that’s detailed line by line as to where, as to where the savings are made in each section.
“In terms of what’s going to happen with the former GIS [Government Information Service], former Merrion Street GIS function will be integrated in the new structure while the Government press office will continue to operate as before dealing with day-to-day media queries, under the direction of the Government press secretary.”
Following this Labour leader Brendan Howlin again raised his concerns over the “move into political paid advertising” and the fact that political advertising that promotes interest of political parties in Government “cannot be paid for by the public purse”.
In addition Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams And Fianna Fail’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath asked Mr Varadkar to explain “cost neutral”.
Mr Varadkar replied:
“I can assure deputies that there won’t be any political advertising, there won’t be any promotional political parties and the civil servants and public sector code in that regard will continue to apply. In relation to the costings, I don’t think I can explain it any better.
“Cost neutral is not the same as cost nothing. The money is being found from within my department and will in fact my department’s budget is being reduced.
“I actually think over time this will save money. It certainly did in other jurisdictions when you just look at the plethora across Government departments and Government agencies of different logos, different communication functions, different websites, different press functions, you name it.
“I think any rational person will see that if you co-ordinate all that, to put it together over a time, you’ll actually save a substantial amounts of money for the taxpayer.
“In terms of political advisors, political advisors are employees of the department. It is the norm that political advisors engage with civil servants all the time and continue to do so but, certainly, there’ll be no engagement with party officials or party press officers.”
Previously: The Good News Unit