6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the information in his Department regarding contracts with marketing companies. [9652/18]Amharc ar fhreagra
Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 28 February 2018
6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the information in his Department regarding contracts with marketing companies. [9652/18]Amharc ar fhreagra
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the information in his Department regarding contracts with marketing companies. [9658/18]Amharc ar fhreagra
8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to County Sligo for the launch of Project Ireland 2040 and on the meetings he held and the groups he met. [9664/18]Amharc ar fhreagra
9. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the twice weekly meetings his Department's strategic communications unit holds with all Departments and the persons who attend. [10143/18]Amharc ar fhreagra
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, together.
The strategic communications unit does not hold twice weekly meetings with all Departments. The programme of work of the unit is part of the Civil Service renewal programme, which is overseen by the Civil Service Management Board. An assistant secretary delivery team has been established to lead the implementation of the unit's programme of work across all Departments. This team comprises representatives at assistant secretary level from all Government Departments.
This team met on 8 February 2018 and is due to meet on the following dates through 2018: 12 April, 14 June, 3 September and 8 November. Meetings with Departments are also held on an ad hoc basis as required in order to progress the work of the unit. As an example, each Department has nominated project managers to oversee the migration of the Department to gov.ie and also the implementation of the new Government of Ireland identity. These officials meet as required with officials from the unit to ensure progress on these activities.
A list of the tenders which were run and the successful tenderers will be circulated to Members with this reply. Contracts are now in place with these tenderers to support the work of the strategic communications unit. Procurement for five of these contracts was overseen by the Office of Government Procurement. In line with public procurement, one tender in respect of identity was managed by my Department as the estimated cost for services was under the €25,000 threshold.
Project Ireland 2040 was launched at the Institute of Technology, IT, Sligo on Friday, 16 February 2018. Events of the day included a Government meeting to approve the plan, the actual launch of the plan and a number of media engagements carried out by myself and the Cabinet. I also met Dr. Brendan McCormack, president of IT Sligo, who was our host for the event.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Provision of research and insight.
Awarded to Behaviour & Attitudes
Provision of digital creative services.
Awarded to Radical Digital now trading as CORE
Provision of integrated creative and digital campaign services.
Awarded to TBWA
Provision of media strategy planning and buying services.
Awarded to PHD
Development of Government identity system for roll out across Government Departments.
Awarded to Zero-G
Provision of marketing pitch specialist services
Awarded to Agency Assessments
In only nine months, the Taoiseach has become renowned for his refusal to back off a partisan position no matter what happens. There are worrying signs that he sees no difference between the State's interests and those of his own party. He said yesterday that this is not even an issue about which we should be talking. The reason this issue keeps arising is because it involves a personal initiative of the Taoiseach to radically alter established practice when it comes to the use of public money to promote Government rather than specific initiatives or basic public information. It goes to the heart of distinguishing between the State, the politicians in government and the wider political debate. In defence of himself, the Taoiseach has now adopted the incredible position that we have a new unit of 15 people in his Department initiated by him that does nothing new and is not responsible for the output for which it is paid. Incredibly, we are told that it did not sign off on X, Y or Z. The Taoiseach has continued the now weekly habit of completely misrepresenting others in his defence. Of course, he has disgracefully attacked as false the work of a journalist who has had the temerity to point to inconvenient facts. Is it the case that the Taoiseach, as the member of Government responsible for this public spending, thinks there is nothing wrong whatsoever with public funding resulting in the non-office holders and candidates of one political party being used in advertising? I have not received an answer to that question to date and I would like one. Is that acceptable? Does the Taoiseach think it okay that candidates of one political party should appear in Government advertisements paid for by the taxpayer?
Why is the Taoiseach so completely uninterested in the comments from editors and journalists to the effect that they were pressurised to present Government advertising as part of normal coverage? It was a bit late to say yesterday that it should be clearly delineated and separate. The Taoiseach should not pretend that he did not know what was going on for the past number of weeks in respect of this matter. Will he stand over the fact that newspapers were informed that there would be more to come if they did as they were told? Does he not agree that an independent review of practice should be established to ensure that proper party political boundaries and political boundaries are respected? If he does not agree with this, could he indicate why? If the Taoiseach is completely satisfied and fully confident that everything is fine, surely an independent review will simply say that.
If Mediaforce was the company that placed these advertisements, who in the Department signed off - as the client of Mediaforce - on behalf of the Government? Can the Taoiseach confirm that the strategic communications unit plans to place advertisements on every local radio station throughout the country? How much money is to be spent on these?
Lots of people have told me there are advertisements in cinemas at present at the end of which the Taoiseach is featured. Could the Taoiseach indicate the number of cinemas in which the advertisements are running? People from Wexford and other counties, not just Dublin, have seen the advertisements as part of cinema advertising. Could the Taoiseach explain to us now or later in detail if he does not have the details to hand the names of the cinemas and so on?
I also want to ask the Taoiseach about section 41(3) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, which prohibits an advertisement that is directed towards a political end. This is presumably why RTÉ, TV3 and national radio cannot carry these advertisements. Two weeks ago and again last week, I suggested to the Taoiseach that this is essentially unethical and crosses a line for which political parties are funded as political parties. We have no problem with every Fine Gael hopeful and would-be candidate being funded by Fine Gael. We object to the Government of the day funding its candidates in advertorials or paid-for advertising. There is a gap in the law but I will ask the Opposition parties to have a look at the law so that in respect of the ban on political advertising, which has served the country well in a variety of contested spaces down through the decades, we would look at introducing the same measure so political funding goes to the parties and they spend it within the law as they see fit but the action of the Government is on behalf of the people of Ireland. What the Government is doing is unethical and crosses a line.
In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Ó Broin yesterday, the Taoiseach said that an indicative budget of €1.5 million has been allocated for publicity in respect of Project Ireland 2040 and confirmed that the launch event for this plan cost approximately €45,000.
This is a ludicrous abuse of taxpayers' money, particularly given that so many elements of this development plan and capital projects had already been announced and were not new. If this was about investing money into promoting an important public policy, it would be fine. For example, with initiatives on road safety or BreastCheck, everybody can see the absolute common sense and public value in investment of that nature. What we are witnessing is not a comprehensive citizens' awareness programme, as the Taoiseach has previously described it. Effectively, it is the promotion of an election and a political manifesto and agenda in the final analysis on behalf of the Fine Gael Party.
We are now confronted with a matter of very serious public concern. I accept that much of the banter in the early days about the strategic communications unit might well have been understood to be - might well have in fact been - just party political banter and positioning.
It is not.
There is no sign of that from us.
That is how I heard some of it. However, it is now abundantly clear that we are dealing with something far more serious. The Taoiseach can no longer brazen this one out or shrug it off. These are significant sums of public money involved and we need a robust process and procedure to assure members of the public - not to assure Sinn Féin, the Labour Party or Fianna Fáil - that they are not being taken for a ride. I suspect - in fact, I now know - that they are.
For context, there is no election on and there is no election campaign. We may all be candidates but I am not aware of any plans for an election anytime soon unless somebody else does. I understand from the newspapers - this may or may not be correct - that Fianna Fáil has lodged a complaint with the Standards in Public Office Commission and another party has lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland. I have no doubt that those bodies will act professionally and appropriately in dealing with any such complaints. That is at least two independent bodies already examining those complaints.
They are within narrow terms of reference.
Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of Fianna Fáil, said he had no problem with advertising so long as it is identifiable. I agree with that and it has been. I see the analysis that was carried out of the regional newspaper advertorials by The Irish Times today, which showed that 20 out of 20 contained a strapline stating that this was done in partnership with Project Ireland 2040. On its Twitter account, Fianna Fáil has stated that it has no problem with advertorials, which have been around for 50 years. Given that Deputy Micheál Martin featured in advertorials, I understand why he could not have a problem with them. Of course, we all agree now - this is a fact - that this is by no means the most expensive public information campaign run to date. At least three were more expensive, including the climate change campaign-----
That is very dishonest and the Taoiseach knows it.
-----the Transport 21 campaign and the e-voting campaign, all of which were approved by a previous Government. I note from the Deputy's comments that he does not have a difficulty with officeholders appearing in advertorials. This, indeed, was done in the NDP advertorials - in fact much more frequently than any of these advertorials. The complaint seems to be that some of the content - some of the advertorials - included people photographed who were not holders of office. This has all been done at arm's length. As I have said before and will say again, neither I, none of my advisers, none of the Civil Service staff has a role in this. It was deliberately done at arm's length. This is a Civil Service unit headed by a public servant. The ads are put in on behalf of Government and it is done on behalf of Government in accordance with Civil Service principles. I do not have any details or information about when or where ads or advertorials are placed, nor do I seek them.
The Deputy will get an opportunity.
The whole point is that this is operating at arm's length. As my Department has confirmed, when it came to the regional newspaper advertorials, all the communications unit provided was the content of what was in the Project Ireland 2040 plan. No suggestions were made as to who should be interviewed. No people were put forward for interview. No photographs were provided. The content in those advertorials, beyond the basic facts, was determined by the media organisations and not by me, civil servants or my Department. I note from the analysis carried out by The Irish Times that 18 of the 20 regional newspaper advertorials contained no names and no interviews, just a factual synopsis of what was in the plan. Seventeen of the 20 have no photographs of politicians, other than those of Ministers who attended the event in Sligo.
The Leader of the Opposition has on a few occasions referenced a candidate who is not a Member of the Oireachtas. The only candidate who is not a Member of the Oireachtas and who appears in any of the advertorials is a candidate who appears in an advertorial by the Longford Leader. However, is it not the case that the owner-editor of the Longford Leader is, in fact, a Fianna Fáil candidate?
What has that got to do with it?
What has that got to do with it?
What is the point?
It is relevant because editorial control of the advertorials was with the editors.
It is not relevant.
The Taoiseach is bringing a private individual into the Dáil debate.
He is not the editor.
They were not written, designed, approved or signed off on by any civil servant, by me or by anyone in my office.
The Taoiseach is casting aspersions on a person outside the House.
Go raibh maith agat. Deputies, please-----
Deputy Micheál Martin quoted an anonymous newspaper editor yesterday in the Dáil. I would be interested to know who that anonymous newspaper editor was.
I got it in The Irish Times.
I would still be interested to know who it was.
It is the same article that the Taoiseach quoted.
Journalists have their sources.
Please, Deputies, the Taoiseach, without interruption.
It is the same article that the Taoiseach quoted.
If Deputies want another opportunity, I will give it to them.
I would be also interested to know if Deputy Martin-----
Journalists rarely reveal the Taoiseach as a source, even though he has been the source many times.
I would be also interested to know if Deputy Micheál Martin believes it is ethical for somebody who is a newspaper editor and who is signing off on these things to be a Fianna Fáil candidate. I would also be interested to know if he has had any contact with the editor of the newspaper in that regard.
He just had to look at the newspaper; he did not have to contact anybody.
I do not see any reason-----
It is there in black and white.
-----why anyone should be unwilling to answer those kinds of questions.
That is absolutely scurrilous.
If the other-----
Many aspersions have been cast on people in the past couple of days.
They can be.
Aspersions have been cast on the editors of regional newspapers, who have defended themselves today.
That is not true.
Deputies, please. I will give them an opportunity if the House agrees.
Aspersions have been cast on me, on civil servants in my Department and on other public servants. If people are concerned about casting aspersions, they should think about what they say as well.
The Taoiseach is doing it now.
When it comes to casting aspersions, I wish to raise something with Deputy Burton. Last week, we had a finding of defamation against RTÉ after a Labour candidate made defamatory comments about a member of Sinn Féin with regard to their alleged connections with the IRA. In the view of the courts, that was not challenged adequately by the RTÉ presenter at the time. We had a similar occurrence this week on this issue where the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Kelly, compared my Government and civil servants in my Department to the Third Reich, to Nazis and to Goebbels, which was wholly inappropriate.
I am not thin-skinned by any means, but describing the Government, civil servants or any individual as being akin to Nazis, the Third Reich or Goebbels is defamatory and beneath the level of discourse that should occur in politics and in this House. I want to put that on the record here. I want to know from Deputy Burton - who has no difficulty going off topic in many questions, as was demonstrated again today - if she stands by those comments by Deputy Kelly. Will she dissociate herself from them? Will the Labour party dissociate itself from them? I do not ask this for me because I have some sort of thin skin - I do not. I am well capable of responding to blows with blows.
On a point of order-----
However, this is a reference-----
This is a serious point of order.
We have seen this from Deputy MacSharry also. This is a reference to the Holocaust.
To be fair, I am not-----
This is a reference to 6 million people who were exterminated-----
That is the point of order. I will deal with that.
It is still before the courts.
-----by the Third Reich and by the Nazis. Belittling the Holocaust and comparing an advertising campaign to the actions of the Nazis and the Third Reich is beneath contempt. I really hope-----
The House has to take a decision.
I really hope that the Leader of the Opposition will dissociate himself from Deputy MacSharry's earlier remarks. I really hope Deputy Burton will take this opportunity-----
Hold on now.
-----to dissociate herself from the remarks of her party's deputy leader.
We have to take a decision. The 15 minutes has expired.
There seems to be great interest in this. It is a matter for the House to decide if it wants to continue.
We should go for the next 15 minutes. We have to respond to that.
If Members wish, we can have three short questions and then we will only have approximately half the time for the last question, so there may not be an opportunity. I will give one minute to each Deputy.
I think we should go for the full 15 minutes now-----
Yes, I think we should.
-----and leave the last question. Many issues were raised there.
We will be pragmatic about it.
Aspersions have been cast that have to be dealt with and I need to deal with them.
Is the House agreed to continue? Agreed.
In the first instance, I have never used any term such as "Goebbels" with regard to the Government's propaganda campaign. It is wrong for the Taoiseach to try to suggest by innuendo that I would endorse that or that I would in any way associate myself with it.
Does Deputy Martin associate himself with it?
That I would not disassociate myself with it.
Does Deputy Martin disassociate himself from it?
We are not going to have bilateral discussions.
Will the Taoiseach let me reply? The Taoiseach's problem is that-----
Nearly, every minute, I-----
-----he does not like it when hard words are said about things that he and his Government get up to. I am talking about legitimate questions that I have asked for the past three months on this issue. The Taoiseach does not like it and he then gets overly partisan and nasty. There is a bad streak there. Mr. Joe Flaherty, for example, is not a Member of this House. He is entitled to be a business owner and to own newspapers. His name should not be dragged into something when he is not here to defend himself.
It is a very basic principle and tradition in this House. He is also entitled to be a candidate for a political party but Government money is not spent on him to promote him. Fianna Fáil will have to do that, as every other candidate in this country will have to do it. I have never used the term "Goebbels" and I hate anyone using Nazi terms about anyone in a current parliamentary democracy. I do not like it or endorse it and I disassociate myself from it. Any Member of the House who uses such terms should reflect on what he or she has said and withdraw any assertion that any Member of this House or any member of the Government is engaging in that matter. What we are discussing here is light years apart from what happened during the Third Reich. I have never been under any illusions about that and I want to make that crystal clear. I think, in many respects, that it was not the correct strategy for the Taoiseach to attempt to put me on a spot with regard to that.
All I would say with regard to Joe Costello is that it is still a live issue before the courts. It is not appropriate that it be discussed here because the issue is not finalised in that respect and I do not think it merited reference. On the more substantive point that I asked in my question, the bottom line is that the Government is responsible for the spending of taxpayers' money and how that money is spent. If it transpires that that money has been spent on promoting Fine Gael candidates, then there has to be a review. It is not good enough for the Government to say that it had nothing to do with it and that it is at arm's length. One cannot be at arm's length from the proper spending of taxpayers' money. That is the point. The Government cannot simply say that it put a whole lot of money over somewhere and that people can do what they like with it. Basic rules and principles should apply. It has never been the case in the Civil Service code or the utilisation of taxpayers' money that it is spent on party political candidates. That is what has happened. It is not just the Longford Leader. It is the Limerick Leader too. There were three Fine Gael candidates on those advertorials. The Roscommon-----
-----Herald. There were Fine Gael candidates in the Roscommon Herald. We can argue about other strategically placed advertorials about the Luas to Finglas. We may speculate about the electoral cliffhanger in that constituency between a Fine Gael Deputy and a Fianna Fáil candidate, Paul McAuliffe. The Taoiseach and I know, while he might pretend that he does not, how tight that race is. There is a lovely double page spread about the Luas to Finglas. I might speculate and I might be wrong but let others judge-----
-----that. There is an onus on the Government to make sure that taxpayers' money is spent properly. When it turns out that it has not been properly and procedurally spent, that should be acknowledged and it should be resolved that it does not happen again. I asked the Taoiseach if he would conduct a comprehensive independent review. The Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, will have parameters to what it can do. What does the Taoiseach have against establishing an independent review of this? He set up this unit and he appointed the head himself.
Finally, the Taoiseach referenced the change programme. That is an outrageous, dishonest comparison. That was about reducing carbon footprint in industry and a green procurement policy. It was a whole societal change. To be fair to John Gormley, the Green Party and the Fianna Fáil Government at the time, that was a five-year programme. The Taoiseach did not present it in the Dáil last night as a five-year programme. It was a substantive part of the national climate change strategy of the State.
We want to give other Deputies a chance to speak.
The Taoiseach came in here then to try to present a false picture just to get himself out of a political hole that he has dug for himself. I do not think that is honourable or the right course of action.
I call Deputy Burton. Remember that we want to give the Taoiseach an opportunity to respond.
I want to reply to what the Taoiseach has just said. I do not know how much he has thought about what he said but I do not think what he said does any honour to this House or to the many people in it-----
There is a precedent regarding issues that are before the courts that they should not be discussed.
I am talking about what the Taoiseach said here, in this House. As somebody who has been the victim of the most atrocious assault and slander on social media, for the Taoiseach to suggest to me that I would countenance, for one moment, other people from any party or none behaving in an inappropriate way in the course of debate to other peopleis unacceptable. I can say that I do not do that and have never done that in my political career. The Taoiseach and I have shared a constituency. He is very familiar with those subjects on which I have contributed. To throw around accusations of a general kind here is completely inappropriate and dishonours the Taoiseach's office. When one becomes Taoiseach, one is meant to meet a higher standard. The Taoiseach is clearly annoyed and irritated that something that has been, understandably for Deputy Varadkar as Taoiseach, a prize project has been subject to criticism here. I would say to the Taoiseach that he is perhaps a little too thin-skinned about that in the context of his replies. Deputies Michéal Martin, Howlin, Adams, the new leader of Sinn Féin, Deputy McDonald, and I have all asked a repeated series of questions at different stages over the last month or so to which we have not received satisfactory answers. If we received satisfactory answers, we would have stopped asking the questions. Instead, the Taoiseach's answers have become more convoluted. In fact, his answer there about departmental assistant secretaries meeting twice a week in answer to the question by Deputy Michael Moynihan sounds more like a theological answer that might come from a priest, bishop or lawyer than from a Taoiseach actually answering about the day-to-day concerns of people who are worried about the roof over their heads and the state of their health service.
The Taoiseach and his Ministers should develop a sense of proportion on this. There is a system in this country which has served us well, with direct funding from the State for political parties which allows political parties, within the rules, to spend that money on the promotion of the political purposes of their party and the promotion of their ideals. There is then Government funding and when political parties take office there are potentially great opportunities for whoever has the honour to become Taoiseach or a Minister to promote ideas in that Government. There is a strict division between party political and the Government position. The Taoiseach is honoured to be in government and needs to carry the can and take responsibility for this. What he is trying to do now is divert. I would say that references in this House to Goebbels and the propaganda unit that he had are, in my view, inappropriate and I think anyone who has been involved in that should reflect and pause because it does not help our debate. Equally, I think the Taoiseach is trying to distort what has been said. I used one term about the Taoiseach's policy.
There will be no time for the Taoiseach to respond.
I said that it is unethical. I stand by that. The Taoiseach crossed the line of what is appropriate.
There will be no time for the Taoiseach to respond.
We should beware contrived outrage on any side. In the rough and tumble of proceedings in the House things are sometimes said that are unfair or unwise, but that should not be used as a pretext for not answering direct questions. The expenditure of public moneys for political purposes is a public interest issue, with which we must get to grips. I suggest to the Taoiseach and the Government that it is not in their long-term interests to allow the matter to persist. Whatever short-term gain or investment has been made in this process has now been brought into public disrepute. This is not about the Taoiseach responding in a party political way to his opponents or reacting to language he might sincerely regard as intemperate because that would be to miss the point entirely. We are dealing with an issue of ethics in the use of public moneys, which is very serious. Can we have answers in that regard? Is there an answer to the public concerns? Can we find a methodology to assure all Members and the public that this is not a try-on? The answers we have heard so far in that regard do not give the necessary assurances.
It is welcome that Deputy Micheál Martin has unequivocally dissociated himself from the remarks made by Deputy Marc MacSharry. I am disappointed that Deputy Joan Burton did not do so also. She specifically referred to remarks made in the House. The remarks of Deputy Alan Kelly were made on the "Morning Ireland" RTÉ radio programme rather than in the House and I am sorry that she felt unable to dissociate herself from them------
As I have not listened to the interview, I am unaware of the remarks to which the Taoiseach refers.
The whole country heard it.
On a point of information-----
There are no points of order at Question Time.
The Taoiseach has made assertions about an interview I have not heard. I made my views clear on terms related to Nazism and------
If the Deputy wishes the Taoiseach to reply, she should allow him to speak.
There will be ample opportunities between now and the next Question Time for the Deputy to listen to the radio interview she claims not to have heard or to read the coverage of it which she claims she has not seen. It is to be hoped there will be time between now and next Tuesday or Wednesday for her to inform herself of what her deputy leader said, reflect on it and, it is to be hoped, do as Deputy Micheál Martin did and unequivocally dissociate herself from the comments and language of Deputy Alan Kelly, of which she seems to have no knowledge.
I have no problem with criticism. We are all in the business of politics, part of which is taking criticism, responding to it, acting on it when it is valid, sucking it up on occasion or pushing back when it is unfair or invalid. I have no difficulty with replying to questions. I do my best to do so every day I am in the House. Last night I met a person who expressed surprise that I had to answer so many questions so frankly. I always try my best to do so. However, I can only answer questions to which I know the answers. I can only account for myself and, through written replies to parliamentary questions, my Department can account for its staff. I cannot answer questions on behalf of third parties, contracted organisations or regional or national newspapers; rather I can only answer questions about myself or the actions of the civil servants employed in my Department and that is what I will continue to do. I am not in a position to answer for third or fourth parties. In terms of the-------
The third parties in question are spending taxpayers' money on behalf of the State.
The Taoiseach to continue, without interruption.
Deputy Micheál Martin should check out the editor of the Tuam Herald.
On the basic rules and principles that should apply, I have made it clear that any commercial content should be clearly identifiable as having been sponsored and as commercial content.
A strapline stating the content was produced in partnership with Project Ireland 2040 does not------
I have made that instruction clear to the staff of my Department. If it needs to be made clearer, so be it. Such content may need to state it is a sponsored advertisement or an advertorial. I have no difficulty with that. I have previously stated a person being interviewed for a commercial feature should be told that is the case.
They were not.
None of the interviews was carried out by me or the staff of my Department
The interviewees were not told.
As a matter of general policy, that should be the case. I have no control over such issues when the interviews are not carried out by me or my staff but rather by third parties. On the content of the advertorials, as I stated, the only information provided by my Department was the factual information contained in the national development plan. No persons were put forward by us for interview. When suggestions were sought from the strategic communications unit, SCU, as to who might be interviewed, it did not make any suggestion in that regard because we thought it would be inappropriate to do so. No photographs were given for inclusion. I can only give truthful answers. No matter how many times questions are asked and assertions or innuendos are made-------
It is only all Fine Gael politicians-------
That is the Jesuitical explanation.
------I can only give truthful answers.
They are facts.
The Deputy should deal with the facts.
The Taoiseach has a responsibility in the spending of taxpayers' money. He cannot wash his hands of that responsibility.