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Varadkar attacks 'political paranoia' around failed SCU; Defunct division will still spend €2.2m

Leo Varadkar has attacked the “political paranoia” around the failed Strategic Communications Unit as he confirmed the soon-to-be-defunct division will still spend €2.2m this year.

It has emerged it will cost some €300,000 to wind down the PR unit which has been heavily criticised for its connections to an advertising campaign around Project Ireland 2040.

Questions were raised around advertorials in newspapers. But the government also last week lost a vote calling for the SCU to be scrapped. A review of it exonerated it from claims of politicisation but also found the unit was “damaging” government work on Brexit and the economy among areas.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Finance Committee this morning, Mr Varadkar admitted there were lessons to be learned from the debacle.

This included ensuring there were controls around placed media advertisements for government campaigns in future. Mr Varadkar said maybe any editorial content should have been signed off by SCU in advance, including how it looked, and that clear labelling should say it is advertorial.

Quizzed by Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath, the Taoiseach said some €2.2m of €2.5m this year from the outgoing unit was either spent or tied up in contracts.

Ads on radio or newspapers already allocated would now be replaced for campaigns, including on health, he told the committee. Some €300,000 will go on winding down the unit, he told TDs. And its 15 staff would be moved elewhere.

But Mr Varadkar also said: “One part of the lesson is in politics, anytime you try and do anything new or different, there is always going to be a controversy.”

This always generated a “degree of political paranoia” he told opposition TDs at the meeting.