Cowen is criticised over PR spending of some ú100,000
The amount of money paid by the Department of Health to a public relations firm has been strongly criticised by Opposition TDs. More than ú100,000 has been paid to Drury Communications, which was engaged by the Minister for Health, Mr Cowen, following the general election.
The Democratic Left spokeswoman on health, Ms Liz McManus, described it as "an awful lot of money" and said not a lot of return was being seen for it.
"It is my experience that the Department of Health, particularly during this Minister's tenure, takes a very secretive approach when compared to other departments.
"Traditionally, the Department of Justice was notoriously difficult to deal with but I have found them extremely helpful, especially in comparison to the Department of Health. Defensive is how I would characterise the Minister and the Department," she said.
Last summer, when Mr Cowen was preparing for the release of documents relating to legal strategy in the Brigid McCole case, the Minister paid Drury more than ú12,000 for a short-term two--month contract.
The firm, headed by Mr Fintan Drury, was engaged again at the beginning of November for a further ú89,540. Under the terms of the contract the Dublin consultancy firm, which also handles the Blood Transfusion Service Board account, was to carry out an audit of media and internal communications in the Department of Health as well as examining operating procedures, training and restructuring requirements.
The Fine Gael spokesman on health, Mr Alan Shatter, said he was not convinced this level of expenditure was necessary.
"I think that despite the great deal of money being spent on public relations there is an unfortunate lack of openness from the Department of Health on a variety of important issues," said Mr Shatter.
The Minister, he said, appeared to have recruited Drury Communications "not so much to help inform the public, but by way of a political prophylactic to provide him with a degree of pre-emptive public relations protection."
Mr Cowen's Department has also engaged other public relation firms. One company, Gilmore Communications, was paid ú24,000 last November for a 12-month pubic relations contract for a healthy eating campaign. Archer Communications received ú209 for once-off media advice to a junior minister.