Government communications: SCU RIP

An official report avoids apportioning blame for the mess

In his report on the controversial Strategic Communications Unit, the secretary general to the Government, Martin Fraser, concludes that it has lost the confidence of the opposition and has becomine a distraction, and on that basis should be wound down.

In his report on the controversial Strategic Communications Unit, the secretary general to the Government, Martin Fraser, concludes that it has lost the confidence of the opposition and has becomine a distraction, and on that basis should be wound down.

 

For democracy to work, governments must have ways of communicating to citizens how their money is being spent and what decisions are being taken in their name. As in any sprawling bureaucracy, that requires coordination, expertise and the use of new technologies. The rationale for the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit (SCU), established last year to centralise and professionalise a patchwork of largely siloed press offices, made a lot of sense. That it is about to be closed down is the Government’s own fault.

With an election on the horizon, the opposition seized on the idea, using it to drive home a common criticism of Taoiseach  Leo Varadkar: that he is a narcissist

Ironically, the original sin was a failure to communicate adequately why the unit was needed. The Government claimed it would be cost-neutral, but was vague about how. With an election on the horizon, the opposition seized on the idea, using it to drive home a common criticism of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: that he is a narcissist more interested in style than substance. Political journalists were always likely to be wary, given that part of the unit’s purpose was to bypass them.

They should have been alive to the potential for problems and consulted the opposition early

In his report on the unit, the secretary general to the Government, Martin Fraser, portrays it as a great success in meeting its objectives. He concludes, however, that it has lost the confidence of the opposition and has become a distraction, and on that basis should be wound down. The report avoids apportioning blame for the mess. It is generous to John Concannon, who runs the unit. Fraser avoids pointing the finger at Concannon’s line manager – Fraser himself – or at Varadkar, in whose department the unit is based. As those in charge, all three must take a share of responsibility. They should have been alive to the potential for problems and consulted the opposition early. They should have made sure no agency contracted by the unit would dissuade newspapers editors from marking Government-bought advertorials in those terms, as occurred with coverage of the Project 2040 investment plan.

In the long-run, the short life and death of the SCU won’t matter much. But the saga provided some useful insights into how Government works. Those insights weren’t flattering.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.