Dail hears calls for Taoiseach to answer questions on Strategic Communications Unit

Update 4.09pm: Sinn Féin has called for the Taoiseach to go before the Public Accounts Committee to answer questions on the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU).

The party has put down a motion to disband the controversial SCU.

Pearse Doherty says that there is an addiction to spin at the heart of the Varadkar Government.

"Five million euro is a lot of money," he said.

"And Sinn Féin believes that that money could have been put to better use.

"It could fund a thousand extra community employment places, it could have reversed the cuts that were made to the small schools made a number of years ago, it could introduce a Living Wage right across the civil service.

"And that is what annoys people, what angers people - they know that money spent on the Leo spin unit is money out of their pockets."

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe accused Sinn Féin of constant negativity.

"At the heart of the politics of Sinn Féin is creating an atmosphere of permanent crisis," he said.

"[It] is creating the concept among our citizens that all of the services that are made available, that all of their money, the taxpayers' money that is made available, is not being used for the benefit of citizens, and that nothing in our country is capable of getting any better."

Earlier: Taoiseach defends Communications Unit ahead of SF motion calling for closure

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, in Berlin

The Government's review of the divisive Strategic Communications Unit will be brought to Cabinet as soon as next week amid mounting calls for the PR body to be scrapped.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed the likely publication date as he rejected claims the SCU has severely damaged his personal image, labelling the accusations from opposition parties "fake news".

Mr Varadkar was speaking ahead of today's debate on the SCU in the Dail today.

Speaking to reporters after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Mr Varadkar was asked about further revelations in today's Irish Examiner that the SCU has repeatedly overstepped its remit.

According to the report, in recent months the SCU has written a parliamentary response for former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, trained civil servants, taken part in senior internal department meetings and overseen a national event in the Taoiseach's own constituency.

Coming after the recent Ireland Project 2040 controversy and a Sinn Féin Dáil motion tonight to be backed by Fianna Fáil calling for the SCU to be scrapped, Mr Varadkar was asked if the unit is causing him too much damage and if he would be better off if it was closed.

However, he instead said the Government's independent review of the SCU - being overseen by the Department of the Taoiseach's secretary general Martin Fraser - is likely to go to Cabinet next week, and that criticism of the unit is "fake news".

Mr Varadkar said: "First of all the review is underway, we'll be opposing the opposition motion tonight. The review is underway, it's being carried by the secretary general of the Government, and I'd anticipate that it will go to Cabinet preferably next week, if not certainly in the next couple of weeks.

"In relation to the story that you mention, I think again there's a misunderstanding there, this is not a political unit. This is the strategic communications unit, it is part of the civil service and civil servants answer parliamentary questions pertaining to their function.

"Civil servants are involved in feeding into what happens at the management board. This is not what the opposition spin claims, that this is some sort of political unit staffed by civil servants.

"I think the Opposition have been very successful in their spin, in their fake news in trying to make out that what is a civil service unit is some sort of political unit. It's not," he said.

 

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