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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 22 March, 2018

Taoiseach says he 'understands concerns' as ministers question Ireland 2040 marketing

The rollout had caused concern at Cabinet.

Image: Sam Boal

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR says that he “understands” concerns around the promotion of the Project Ireland 2040 plan.

Questions have been raised about how advertorials in newspapers have been presented during the €1.5 million rollout of the plan.

The government’s controversial Strategic Communications Unit is heading up a sweeping strategy to promote the plan across traditional and online media.

The Ireland edition of The Times has reported that regional newspapers were directed by an ad agency to ensure the ads appeared as regular news items.

The fallout from the controversy led to concerns at Cabinet, as Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, Transport Minister Shane Ross and Communications Minister Denis Naughten all raising it with the Taoiseach. Zappone said that public money should not be used to promote Oireachtas candidates.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News At One, Varadkar said he’d spoken to all three over the last 24 hours to allay their fears. Varadkar said that only two of the pieces featured people who were not current Oireachtas members.

“I should say that there were 160 advertorials in papers, all clearly labelled. There were only two which featured non-Oireachtas members – one is a Sinn Féin councillor and another is a pic of a Fianna Gael councillor standing beside Michael Ring.

I appreciate the concerns that have been raised. I agree public money should never be used to promote Oireachtas candidates and that there shouldn’t be a blurring of lines. Guidelines were issued to ensure that didn’t happen, but it’s evident that those guidelines need to be strengthened and I will do that but now the focus is severe weather.

The Strategic Communications Unit, set up by the Taoiseach with a view to streamlining the government’s communications, has come in for frequent criticism from the opposition benches since its inception.

The new SCU exists in tandem with the current Government Information Service (GIS), which runs all day-to-day communications concerning the Department of the Taoiseach.

The unit will cost some €5 million to run this year.

Read: Taoiseach defends marketing of Ireland 2040 plan as opposition calls for answers

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