Spin unit chief to head State’s ‘global footprint’ drive

After move to new post civil servant’s official title will be director general of Global Ireland

John Concannon: will retain the assistant secretary pay grade of between €122,313 and €139,728  for his new appointment. Photograph: Alan Betson

John Concannon: will retain the assistant secretary pay grade of between €122,313 and €139,728 for his new appointment. Photograph: Alan Betson


John Concannon, who ran the soon-to-be-disbanded strategic communications unit, is taking up a new role as head of a Government project aimed at expanding “Ireland’s global footprint”.

The senior civil servant will move from the Department of the Taoiseach, where the controversial unit, dubbed the “spin unit” by its critics, was based, to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade later in the summer.

The Sligo native’s new title will be director general of Global Ireland, the initiative launched by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney this month.

He is taking up a vacancy created by the retirement of the department’s director general of communications, Bobby McDonagh. Mr McDonagh was a high-ranking diplomat who in a long career in the foreign service was Ireland’s permanent representative to the EU and ambassador to the UK, Italy and Malaysia.

New job

Mr Concannon, an experienced marketeer, will retain the assistant secretary pay grade of between €122,313 and €139,728 that he received at the Department of the Taoiseach in his new job, which puts him on the management board at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

A spokesman for the department said that it has 10 sections headed by director generals or equivalent grades who report to secretary general Niall Burgess.

Mr Concannon played a lead part in the recent launch of the Global Ireland proposal in Dublin where Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney, along with other Ministers, announced plans to open 26 new embassies and consulates over a seven-year period.

The initiative is a broad-ranging plan that will include expanding the presence of the State’s economic agencies including Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland overseas, promoting Irish arts, heritage and culture, and publishing a White Paper on a pledge to increase State funding to development aid by 2030.

More imminently, Mr Concannon is involved in the formal launch of the Government’s drive to secure Ireland a seat on the United Nations Security Council. A presentation on the matter at the UN in New York on July 2nd is to be attended by Mr Varadkar, Mr Coveney and senior Irish diplomats.

The launch will be supported by U2 lead singer Bono whose track record of promoting humanitarian issues, the Government hopes, will help push Ireland’s case.

Political storm

Mr Varadkar announced in March that the strategic communications unit would be wound down and its 15 staff reassigned by July. The pledge was forthcoming in the wake of a political storm over presentation of advertising material about the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 plan in local and national newspapers.

Martin Fraser, secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, reviewed the work of the unit, which had an annual budget of €5 million. He concluded that the unit did not politicise the Ireland 2040 coverage by promoting Fine Gael politicians or try to interfere in how media presented sponsored content. Still, Mr Varadkar decided to close the unit as it had become a “distraction from the work of Government”.

Mr Concannon, a former marketing manager at consumer goods giant Unilever, footwear maker Dubarry and Fáilte Ireland, ran Ireland’s official 1916 commemorations and subsequently Creative Ireland, a five-year initiative aimed at fostering creativity among Irish communities.