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Strategic Communications Unit to be closed down by July

Staff in controversial ‘spin unit’ to be redeployed to other areas of the public service

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ordered a review of the “spin unit” after negative publicity surrounding its operations. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Government’s controversial Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) will be wound down by July, the Cabinet has been told.

All 15 staff in the unit, which had an annual budget of €5million, will be redeployed to other areas of the civil service.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Cabinet on Tuesday that the unit would no longer exist in its current form by the end of the summer.

The decision was made on the basis of two reports prepared by secretary general to Department of the Taoiseach Martin Fraser, both of which are expected to be published later on Tuesday.

The first looked at how the SCU handled the publicity campaign surrounding the Project 2040 national development plan. The second was Mr Fraser’s recommendations on the future of the unit.

In the first, the key finding was that the unit did not politicise the campaign or try to interfere in any manner in how news organisations handled “advertorial” - or sponsored - copy. If anything, the unit was too “hands off” in this regard, the report found, suggesting it should have exercised more supervision and control.

When it came to the wider question of the future of the unit, it is understood to Mr Fraser outlined his concerns regarding the effect the unit - and the negative publicity it had drawn - was now having on the civil service.

The opposition has consistently claimed that the civil service was being politicised by what it called a “spin unit”, saying public money was being used to promote Fine Gael candidates and Ministers in the campaign.

Earlier this month, a Sinn Féin motion calling for the disbandment of the SCU was carried in the Dáil, after Fianna Fáil supported it.