Government's Strategic Communications Unit to be wound down

It is understood the unit will be wound down in the coming months.

Government's Strategic Communications Unit to be wound down

Leo Varadkar speaking at a Government Open Policy Debate on Digital Safety in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin | Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated: 20.50

The Government has released a report calling for the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) to be wound down.

The controversial unit has been the subject of intense scrutiny, after allegations they instructed newspapers to make adverts look like real news.

The review was carried out by Martin Fraser, the country's top civil servant.

He found no evidence of a breach of the Civil Service Code by those working in the SCU by seeking favourable coverage for Fine Gael candidates.

However he still recommended the unit be shut down.

The review says the high level of attention put on the communications unit "is now actively damaging our ability to effectively focus on our strategic priorities, such as Brexit, Northern Ireland, the economy and improving public services".

It also says "some of the public comments made about the SCU have been disproportionate, hurtful and offensive."

The review says communication should return to a Government Information Service model, which was there before, with the budget cut in half to €2.5m and a reduced number of staff.

The 15 staff members in the SCU will be redeployed either in the Department of the Taoiseach or elsewhere between now and July.

The review also says no new national campaigns should be run by the SCU.

"PR stunt for brand Leo"

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

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly claimed the unit was 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."