Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach’s communications unit to be disbanded by July

Leo Varadkar ordered a review of the Strategic Communications Unit.

The Taoiseach’s controversial communications unit will be wound down in the summer, the Government has confirmed.

Leo Varadkar told cabinet colleagues on Tuesday that his department’s five million euro Strategic Communications Unit would be disbanded by July, with its functions scaled back and absorbed into the existing Government Information Service.

The move comes after Mr Varadkar ordered a review of the unit’s functioning.

The Taoiseach previously acknowledged it had become a “distraction” from the work of government.

The unit has been involved in a number of controversies, including a notable furore around a public information campaign on the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 infrastructure plan.

Political rivals claim paid-for stories placed in national and regional papers were not clearly marked as advertorial content.

That controversy fuelled persistent opposition claims that the unit is more interested in boosting Fine Gael’s profile than disseminating government information.

Mr Varadkar had asked the secretary general of his department to conduct a review of the unit in the wake of the Project Ireland row.

A statement from the Taoiseach’s department said the review found “no evidence of a breach of the Civil Service Code by civil servants in the SCU, whether by seeking favourable coverage for Fine Gael candidates or otherwise.”

It said relevant newspaper editors had confirmed that choice of photos and quotes in their articles was determined by them and was “not subject to any outside influence”.

However, the statement added: “Having taken a wide range of issues into consideration, as set out in the review report, the Secretary General has recommended that the Strategic Communications Unit should be wound down and that the Department of the Taoiseach should revert to a reformed Government Information Service, with a smaller budget, less staff and a more limited role than the SCU.

“The review also recommended a number of steps to be taken across Government Departments to preserve valuable and necessary reforms to ensure value for money, professionalisation and modernisation in government communications activity.

“There will be a transition period until July 2018 for the implementation of all of the recommended next steps as set out in the Review.”

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