Fianna Fáil to support call for Government's 'spin unit' to be scrapped

The party has labelled the unit a “€5m PR stunt for brand Leo”

Fianna Fáil to support call for Government's 'spin unit' to be scrapped

File photo of the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press call, 08-03-2018. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

A Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to scrap its Strategic Communications Unit looks likely to passed in the Dáil this evening.

Fianna Fáil has confirmed it plans to support a Private Members Motion put forward by Sinn Féin calling for the €5m unit to be disbanded.

It comes after number of newspapers claimed the SCU told them to make paid Government ads for the Ireland 2040 project look like real news.

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly says the unit is nothing more than a “€5m PR stunt for brand Leo”:

“It is blurring the lines between journalism and advertising,” he said.

“It is putting at risk something sacred in our democracy, which is the impartiality and neutrality of our civil servants.

“They are getting involved in things they shouldn’t get involved in - Ireland 2040 was one.”

He warned that the unit is a “waste of public money” that should never have been set up.

The unit, set up at the Department of the Taoiseach following Leo Varadkar’s confirmation to office last year, has been labelled a Spin Unit by opposition parties.

Mr Donnelly said key information relating to the Ireland 2040 campaign was made available on Fine Gael’s website before the Government’s own gov.ie.

“The finger of blame is not being pointed at the staff of the Strategic Communications Unit,” he said.

“The finger of blame is begin pointed at Fine Gael and at Leo Varadkar.”

Mr Varadkar has asked his secretary general to review the SCU – including the possibility of disbanding it.

The Sinn Féin bill is now likely to pass with Fianna Fáil’s support.

However, as a Private Members Motion, it will not be binding – meaning Fine Gael will not be forced to disband the unit.

Deputy Donnelly said the motion will provide a “very serious call from our Parliament saying we are not happy with this; it is clearly blurring lines; we want it shut down and we want an independent review.”

A review of the unit, undertaken by the secretary general of the Taoiseach’s department, is due before the end of the month.