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Varadkar says describing civil servants as being akin to Nazis is 'wholly inappropriate'

The Taoiseach says he is not “thin-skinned” but believes criticism of Ireland 2040 adverts is unfair.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil this afternoon.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil this afternoon.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has criticised comments made by opposition TDs who compared the promotion of the government’s Ireland 2040 plan to the activities of Joseph Goebbels, the man who was in charge of Nazi propaganda for the Third Reich.

In a radio interview yesterday, Labour TD Alan Kelly said advertising rolled out by the government’s Strategic Communications Unit of the national planning framework is “Goebbels territory”.

The Taoiseach was grilled about the marketing campaign during Leaders’ Questions yesterday, which he said cost €1.5 million.

Varadkar denied that his communications unit had instructed any newspaper or media organisation to blur the lines between news articles and paid-for content, adding that all sponsored content of the Ireland 2040 plan should be clearly marked.

Comparison to Third Reich

Speaking in the Dáil today, before the House was suspended until next week, Leo Varadkar said remarks by Kelly comparing civil servants in his department and communications unit to the Third Reich were “wholly inappropriate”.

He added:

I’m not thin skinned by any means, Leas Ceann Comhairle, but I think describing the government, civil servants, any individual as being akin to Nazis and the Third Reich or Goebbels is defamatory and beneath the level of discourse that should occur in politics and in this House.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil that a similar reference had been made by Fianna Fáil’s Marc McSharry.

Varadkar asked Labour’s Joan Burton and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin if they stood by the comments made by their party colleagues.

“This is a reference to six million people who were exterminated by the Third Reich and by the Nazis and I think belittling the Holocaust. Comparing and advertising campaign to the actions of the Nazis and the Third Reich, I think that’s beneath contempt,” said the Taoiseach.

Criticism of government

Martin said he wanted to address the issue, stating that the Taoiseach does not like when criticism is levelled at him.

“You do not like it when hard words are said about what you get up to and what your government get up to. You get overly partisan and nasty. There is a bad streak there Taoiseach,” he said, adding:

I have never used any terms such as Goebbels or anything in relation to the government’s propaganda campaign.
It’s wrong for the Taoiseach to try and suggest that I would endorse that or in anyway associate myself with it.

The Fianna Fáil leader said he “never used the word Goebbels”.

“I hate anybody using Nazi terms about anyone in a current parliamentary democracy. I do not like it. I do not endorse it and I disassociate myself from it.

“And any member of the house that does use that should reflect on what they said and withdraw any assertion that any member in this house or any member of government is engaging in that manner because what we’re discussing here is light-years obviously from what happened in the Third Reich. And I want to make that crystal clear,” said Martin.

He said he is simply asking “legitimate questions” about the spending of taxpayers money, stating that it is not acceptable for the Taoiseach to say that he is operating at an arms length from the communications unit. Martin asked what the Taoiseach had against setting up an independent review of the campaign roll-out.

Burton said she herself has been a victim of “atrocious assault” and “slander” in the past, and it was not fair for the Taoiseach to assert in the House that she would “countenance for one moment” anyone being in appropriate during the course of debate.

She claimed she had not seen or heard the interview with her party colleague Alan Kelly.

The Dublin West TD said any references to the Nazi regime or Goebbels are “inappropriate”.

“I think anybody who was involved in doing that should actually reflect and pause because I don’t think it helps our debate,” said Burton.

However, she said throwing around accusations dishonours the Taoiseach’s office and accused Varadkar of being “annoyed and irritated that something that has been understandably for you as Taoiseach a prize project has been subject to criticism in here”.

She added that the Taoiseach was being being “too thin-skinned”.

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