Project Ireland 2040: €500,000 spent on cinema, print adverts

Government departments spend €9m on public awareness, advertising, PR since start of 2017

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said advertorials for the launch of the National Development Plan – Project Ireland 2040 – in national and regional newspapers and online media for five days last month cost €384,372. FIle photograph: Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said advertorials for the launch of the National Development Plan – Project Ireland 2040 – in national and regional newspapers and online media for five days last month cost €384,372. FIle photograph: Getty Images

 

Cinema and newspaper advertising costs for the launch of the National Development Plan – Project Ireland 2040 – was almost €500,000, final figures have shown.

It has also emerged that Government departments have spent over €9 million on external public relations advice, online advertising and public awareness campaigns since the beginning of last year.

Revealing the final tally for the controversial advertising campaign, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said advertorials in national and regional newspapers and online media for five days last month cost €384,372.

A cinema advertisement that played in all screens in all cinemas across the State for four weeks cost €98,539.

The Government had originally allocated €1.5 million for advertising the project, but the Taoiseach acknowledged last week that “obviously now that will not happen”.

The advertorials, or sponsored content, provoked ire amid claims some newspapers were instructed by the Government’s embattled Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) not to distinguish the advertising content from regular news.

Fine Gael promotion claim

The Opposition sharply criticised the appearance of Fine Gael candidates in the advertising and claimed the Government was using taxpayers’ money for Fine Gael promotion.

Mr Varadkar defended the unit and insisted it had no input into the selection of those interviewed for the articles, and “no political spokespeople or Government backbenchers were recommended for interview or for pictures to be included”.

The report of a review of the unit is expected this week, and the Taoiseach will face questions on the issue on Thursday when he appears before the Oireachtas Finance Committee to address issues about his department’s budget.

Secretary general to the Government Martin Fraser, who undertook the review, and secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt, will be asked to appear before the Public Accounts committee to address the business case for the unit.

A total of 65 written parliamentary questions were submitted to the Taoiseach last week about the unit.

Replies from Government departments to Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy show departments spent at least €9.142 million on PR advice and advertising from third-party contractors.

Ms Murphy said one company was paid over €300,000 and another €150,000, and these were “extraordinary” amounts.

More co-ordinated approach

She acknowledged there had to be a more co-ordinated approach, but not the one the Taoiseach had taken.

There was a “silo-based” approach, where departments did not talk to other departments about advertising spending to get “more bang for their buck”. But “there is a mindset here that is more about reflecting well politically on the Taoiseach than it is about giving public information.

“It is very damaging to himself, to politics, to the public service. If he has any sense he must understand that it can’t continue.”

Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin also criticised “the blurred lines between the Government and Civil Service and between the State and Fine Gael”.

Mr Varadkar told her in a parliamentary reply that his department had spent €144,000 to date this year on public awareness campaigns and advertorial. She noted that between 2014 and 2017 the total expenditure by the Taoiseach was approximately €147,000.

“The Taoiseach has managed to spend almost as much on advertising in the last three months as was spent in the last four years,” she said.

“I see no justification for that, and you have to look at what is the motivation, the real purpose behind this spend – and I certainly don’t think it’s putting people first,” she said.

The overall advertising figures show the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment spent €1.568 million, including on advertising for the national waste campaign, since the beginning of last year.

The Department of Finance spent €2.17 million. The Department of Justice spent €1.243 million with a significant provision for the national domestic violence awareness campaign, as well as funding for the Blue blindfold campaign against human trafficking.

Spending by Government departments – Advertising, PR, communications advice since January 2017:

Housing, Planning & Local Government: No figures given

Employment Affairs & Social Protection: €1,173,216

Children & Youth Affairs: €443,182

Agriculture, Food & the Marine: €324,118

Communications, Climate Action and Environment: €1,568,356

Business, Enterprise and Innovation: €264,407

Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht: €960,844

Public Expenditure & Reform: €268,543

Education & Skills: €48,945.75

Defence: €40,180

Foreign Affairs & Trade: €211,096

Justice & Equality: €1,243,072

Health: Total expenditure unavailable; €114,491 for public relations on bid for relocation of European Medicines Agency to Dublin post-Brexit

Finance: €2,173,540

Taoiseach: €193,027.35

Transport: €88,687.14 (for first six months of 2017)

Total: €9,142,705.24