Noel Whelan: For tweets sake give Varadkar a break
Suggesting Committee F picture is security breach is ludicrous – you can easily Google it
Lisa Chambers’ statement implied that our national capacity to address such threats was somehow undermined by the Taoiseach tweeting a picture in which the membership of Committee F was identifiable. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
When politics and communications students some day come to write theses or term papers on how traditional media and Opposition politicians struggled to grapple with Leo Vardakar’s communications style, the story of a picture of Cabinet Committee F will feature prominently.
Each day the Taoiseach gives his 107,000 Twitter followers regular updates on what he’s at and who he’s meeting with. Varadkar (or who ever works with him in managing his twitter account) has a good sense of what gets traction on the platform and always includes a picture of whatever event he is anxious to tell us about. Many of his 107,000 followers seem to enjoy it. He gets a surprising number of likes or retweets from even the more anodyne postings. On Thursday of last week he tweeted about how he had “kick started” his day with a meeting of his Dublin West constituency team and they were duly pictured. Later that morning he posted a picture of a meeting in his office with the Global CEO of LinkedIn.
That afternoon Varadkar tweeted about Committee F, which is the Cabinet committee dealing with national security. He told of how it had held its second meeting and of course he included a picture of the committee at work.
Almost immediately concerns were expressed by a handful of other tweeters about whether he should be tweeting a picture with a few suggesting that posting the picture in someway amounted to a security breach. This twitter banter took a more significant turn when the Fianna Fáil frontbench spokesperson on Defence Lisa Chambers TD replied to the Taoiseach tweet saying that meetings about national security should be confidential. The Taoiseach “knows no bounds” she added.
Deputy Chambers was still so annoyed about the tweet the following Saturday that she issued a strongly worded press statement again criticising the Taoiseach for the tweet. The Taoiseach, she said, “needs to realise that actions have consequences especially when it comes to national security. There are current and future threats to our state that we must deal with”. Her statement implied that our national capacity to address such threats was somehow undermined by the Taoiseach tweeting a picture in which the membership of Committee F was identifiable.
Things took on an even more entertaining twist on Sunday when the Sunday Independent devoted a half-page to the tweet under the bold headline “ Could Leo Varadkar have breached national security”. The piece by one of their top commentators claimed that “for the first time in the history of the State, insofar as I am aware, a Taoiseach has published a photograph with all of the heads of national security, and other clearly identifiable related figures”.
Of course the content of discussions of such meetings are highly confidential but the fact of such a committee or that it holds meetings is not
The piece also suggested that at least two of those at the meeting were in uniform and that there was “paperwork on the desk in front of them, in one case, on a lap closest to camera, which would not be beyond the expertise of a technical expert to refocus and read.” This conjures up images of some Bond film terrorist villain in a bolt hole with both the inclination and supersonic magnifying capacity to zoom in, trying to decipher what an official had jotted down at such a meeting. The Taoiseach had “potentially placed in jeopardy, or compromised the security of the State for his own political purposes,” the piece said, and that “this publication is a serious matter, an undoubted error”.
On Wednesday the tweet was even raised in the Dáil. The Sinn Féin deputy Caoimhghin O’ Caoláin describe it as “unprecedented and unwise thing to do” before comparing the Taoiseach to President Trump for doing so. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked what security advice the Taoiseach had sought on tweeting the photograph of the committee. In fairness to Martin he admitted when asking the question that “it may not be a huge issue”.
In fact it is a non-issue. The establishment of Committee F and the details of its membership were published long ago. In fact if you are bothered to Google “Cabinet Committee F” you find several pictures of those gathered at the first meeting of the committee on the July 20th last. The Irish Independent site that day included photographs taken from no fewer than three different angles around the table showing all of those who were at the meeting.
Of course the content of discussions of such meetings are highly confidential but the fact of such a committee or that it holds meetings is not and should not be a State secret. In this era of increased terrorist activity across Europe there is even value in publishing such meetings in order to reassure people that government is co-ordinating preparations to respond to any possible attacks here.
There is much in policy terms and even in communications style for which the Leo Varadkar is open to criticism, but this tweet is not one of them.