Ireland 2040 advertising is ‘Goebbels territory,’ Kelly says
Sipo asked to investigate Government’s publicity campaign for national plan
Labour TD Alan Kelly has compared the Government’s spend on advertorials for the national plan Ireland 2040 as ‘akin to something from the Third Reich’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Kelly’s comments come after Fianna Fáil wrote to Sipo, the State’s ethics watchdog, asking it to investigate if the Government’s publicity campaign has broken rules that bar civil servants from political work.
Following the launch of the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan in Sligo this month, the Government embarked on an extensive publicity campaign that has had a particular focus on cinema advertising and advertisements in the form of paid-for newspaper articles.
Many of the articles have promoted Government politicians, and some have promoted non-office holders, such as Senators, TDs and, in at least one case, a councillor who is a Fine Gael candidate in the next election.
Independent ministers have also been promoted, with one advertisement referring to the junior minister Kevin Boxer Moran as the King of the Midlands.
Opposition parties say this amounts to publicly funded political advertising for Fine Gael candidates.
The advertising campaign is being commissioned by the strategic-communications unit, a 15-strong unit of civil servants in the Department of the Taoiseach with an annual budget of €5 million.
Mr Kelly said this was an unprecedented level of spend by a government and it was a situation where a huge volume of taxpayers’ money was being used “to spin a plan which doesn’t have a statutory basis yet.”
It was also unprecedented, he added, for provincial newspapers to be used in this fashion “to get across propaganda.”
Mr Kelly called on the Taoiseach to come before the Public Accounts Committee to explain the spending, which he described as “a danger to democracy”.
He told RTE’s Morning Ireland that the public could not distinguish between advertorials and editorials and the “multi page spreads” could not be distinguished as distinct from the work of journalists.
“To me that is dangerous territory. Pushing out content in that manner is unprecedented. It is fundamentally wrong and an attack on democracy.”
Mr Kelly also urged the Taoiseach to say if people employed by the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit had contacted regional media organisations to request that the advertorials be made to look like editorial, as has been claimed.
“If they really want to support local papers they should put the money in a fund.”