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Howlin calls on SIPO to give advice on ballooning budget for spin unit

12 October 2017

Statement by Brendan Howlin TD
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland

Labour Leader Brendan Howlin has today written to the Standards in Public Office Commission, seeking advice relating to the budget announced for the Taoiseach's personal spin operation in Budget 2018.

Speaking this morning, Deputy Howlin said:

"One of the greatest surprises contained in this Budget was the allocation of €5m to fund the Strategic Communications Unit, or spin operation that Leo Varadkar has created in his Department. The Taoiseach continues to argue that this will be cost neutral, but an allocation of €5m to this area means some other area of public spending is being denied those resources.

"This sum could have increased school book rental grants by a third, funded an increase in personal assistant hours for people with disabilities, or gone some way towards eliminating the waiting list for home care packages. Instead, the Taoiseach has allocated himself this funding to boost the popularity of the Fine Gael party.

"I have asked SIPO to clarify two points today. Firstly, whether the deployment of a significant quantity of social media advertising by the Taoiseach's Department amounts to an improper use of public funds for political ends. And secondly, whether the staff recruited to serve in the Strategic Communications Unit have been appropriately recruited under the Public Service Management Act.

"This follows on from a letter to the Secretary General of the Taoiseach's Department last week, where I have asked him to clarify the level of expenditure planned for this unit, to outline the appropriateness of a programme of tracking polls that have been commissioned, and the intention of Government to continuing recruiting more communications staff. While I have not yet received a response to that letter, I believe that the events of the last 24 hours now require an intervention by the Standards in Public Office Commission.

"All opposition parties have united in condemnation of the creation of this spin unit in the Taoiseach's Department. The surprise budget allocation of €5m flies in the face of previous reassurances around costs given by the Taoiseach in relation to this matter, and raises real concerns that Fine Gael intend to build public support in advance of the next election through the misuse of public funds."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Deputy Howlin's letter to SIPO can be found at: https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/letter_to_sipo_re_scu.pdf

Deputy Howlin's earlier letter to the Secretary General of the Department of An Taoiseach can be found at:  https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/mfraser_strategic_comms_unit_061017.pdf