Opposition parties call for Government's 'spin unit' to be disbanded

The controversial Strategic Communications Unit is now being reviewed, at Leo Varadkar's request

Opposition parties call for Government's 'spin unit' to be disbanded

Leo Varadkar speaking after the launch of Project Ireland 2040. Picture by: Michelle Devane/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 21.10

The main opposition parties want to see the Government's Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) disbanded.

Sinn Féin plan to bring a motion to disband the so-called 'spin unit', with Fianna Fáil likely to support it.

The unit has come under fresh scrutiny after allegations that it instructed regional papers to make ads for the Ireland 2040 plan look like real news.

That is something the Government denies, saying they gave the papers full editorial control - saying the 'advertorials' were clearly marked as being paid for by the State.

However, the SCU is now being reviewed by the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach, at Leo Varadkar's request.

The Taoiseach told RTÉ earlier today that the possibility of disbanding the unit will "have to be examined" as part of the review.

Independent Minister Katherine Zappone has concerns about the unit, and welcomed the fact that it's being reviewed.

She said: "There should be no surrendering of editorial control when we are using taxpayers' money to place advertisements or content in relation to local, regional and national newspapers.

"A review is under way... and I welcome the Taoiseach's comments this morning that everything is on the table in relation to that review."

'Blurring the lines'

Calling for a disbanding of the SCU, Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley argued: "The blurring of the lines between Fine Gael and Government propaganda must end immediately.

"Irish media is under severe financial pressure from online digital advertisers and they are under constant financial pressure. Fine Gael saw an opportunity, through the SCU and the Ireland 2040 project, to increase their presence and promotion in communities up and down the country. "

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty is set to lead a demonstration tomorrow calling for the Taoiseach to disband the SCU.

In a statement today, Deputy Doherty suggested: “Project Ireland 2040 has confirmed what many of us already knew - that the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit is a highly expensive PR Unit, paid for by the taxpayer for the benefit of the Taoiseach and Fine Gael.

“It is a slap in the face to the Irish taxpayer and it is not acceptable," he added.

When the SCU was announced last year, the Taoiseach insisted the new agency "will not be political", and will "complement, not replace" the existing ways that State departments and agencies deal with press, media and communications.

Today, he said statements from the opposition are trying to distract from the big picture.

He argued: "The opposition spin, and they accuse me of spin... but they're pretty good at it themselves.

"Their spin is to make sure that we don't talk about the [Ireland 2040] plan - they don't want the public to know about it, they don't want the public to hear about it, so they want to focus on the process around it."

Reporting by Sean Defoe and Stephen McNeice