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strategic communications

Taoiseach's department has spent nearly €500k on video production since Varadkar took office

Videos produced for the Project Ireland 2040 plan cost just under €150,000 alone.

THE TAOISEACH’S DEPARTMENT has spent just over €467,000 on the production of videos since Leo Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny in June 2017.

These videos are posted through various means across social media, and through the government’s information service MerrionStreet.ie.

The single biggest expenditure was on Project Ireland 2040, which cost €146,680 when it launched earlier this year. This was the large-scale government announcement of the long-term €116 billion investment in infrastructure and services that will see Ireland through the next two decades. 

Other expenditure ranged from €21,227 on the ill-fated campaign for Ireland to host the Rugby World Cup, just under the same amount on Budget 2019 videos and €13,000 for the Pope’s visit to Ireland.

These videos can range widely but do share some common features.

They often feature the Taoiseach or another minister speaking to camera explaining an initiative. They have high production values, and can intersperse scenes from the topic they are focusing on.

For example, the rugby promotional video cut images of the Taoiseach, the head of the IRFU, Frances Fitzgerald and Shane Ross in slow motion alongside scenes of the landscape of Ireland, Croke Park, Lansdowne Road and iconic rugby moments in our history. 

As they speak, music plays as the background as it cuts between all of these. 

MerrionStreetNews / YouTube

Excluded from these costs is the cost of producing the Taoiseach’s weekly video message. This takes the form of someone recording Varadkar wherever he happens to be that Friday, where he tells viewers what the government has done this week.

Video content has been a feature of government communications since Varadkar took the helm as Taoiseach. In providing the breakdown of costs, he said that “in communicating the work of government, it is important to provide information to citizens in a manner in which they wish to receive it, which includes the medium of video”. 

A more recent example of this strategy was this video released ahead of Budget 2019.

Here’s the full breakdown of costs on these campaigns:

  • Healthy Ireland – €31,555.65
  • Self-employed benefits – €13,351.65
  • Project Ireland 2040 – €146,680.59
  • Global Ireland – €136,022.01
  • Luas Cross City launch – €5,584.20
  • Legislation video – €24,412.73
  • Ireland.ie – €1,881.90
  • Rugby World Cup campaign – €21,227.07
  • Budget 2018 – €10,947
  • Back to School 2017 – €9,717
  • Global footprint launch – €20,049
  • 25th anniversary of homosexuality decriminalisation – €13,314.75
  • Budget 2019 – €19,346.98
  • Pope in Ireland – €13,314.75

He added that there may be additional costs relating to invoices that have yet to be processed.

Spin

Speaking to Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show last week, Varadkar was pushed on charges made against him by political rivals that he was obsessed with the media and spin.

“I think what is different is I do put more store than other politicians and other Taoisigh in the past into communications, because I actually think communications are important,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s good enough to have the right policies. You need to explain them to people. If you want to get things through and govern well, you govern by consent and you bring people with you. 

He then cited water charges as an example where previous governments hadn’t communicated well.

“We really messed up on that,” Varadkar said. “Didn’t explain, didn’t communicate it properly. I think it’s an important part of politics… I’m active on social media, but I don’t think that’s spin. That’s just talking to people.”

Earlier this year, it was announced that the separate body set up by Varadkar to handle government communications would be wound down. 

The Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) was allocated a budget of €5 million and a staff of 15 and the opposition accused it of being a “spin unit” in order to grab the “good news”. 

It came under fire after questions were raised over the SCU’s potential role in how advertorials in newspapers were presented over the Project Ireland 2040 plan. 

“I appreciate that the unit that I set up to better explain how government works and what it does has now become a distraction from the work of government,” Varadkar admitted.

“I appreciate that mistakes were made, that controls were too loose and as a result, problems arose.”

While the current government’s focus on video has risen during Varadkar’s tenure has risen, alongside that has been a consistent trend of a fall in the amount the Taoiseach’s department spends on photography.

In 2008, the Taoiseach’s office spent €83,398. In Enda Kenny’s first year as Taoiseach in 2011, this figure was over €30,000. For the first four months of 2008, Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach before he was replaced by Brian Cowen. 

During Varadkar’s first full year, this was down to €10,900. 

With reporting from Christina Finn

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