Varadkar’s government used tax payers’ money to generate ‘positive’ stories about its national plan.
His ‘Strategic Communication Units’ contacted journalists from the Independent Group of Newspapers to write good news stories about a plan that promised more hospital beds, schools and better transport connections.
This type of manipulation is part of Varadkar’s record
Just before he became the leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar used his position as Minister for Social Protection to launch a publicity campaign against ‘welfare cheats’.
He spent €165,988 of public money and was photographed in the national press holding a placard which stated ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’. It was a cynical exercise designed to win over the Fine Gael grassroots for his leadership bid.
Subsequently, it was revealed that there were just 11 cases of identity fraud in 2017 and the top civil servant in the Department, John McKeon, admitted that the advertising campaign was a ‘mistake’.
By the time the admission was made, Varadkar had won the leadership of Fine Gael.
But that was the very point of the campaign- it was all about image making rather than reality.
If Varadkar had checked a previous Comptroller and Auditor General report on deliberate fraud, he would have found that it amounted to a mere 0.2 percent of the overall welfare budget.
The use of public money to generate a positive news storm over the National Plan takes PR manipulation to a new level.
But it also provides a new insight into the relations between the media and the political establishment.
It is common for Irish politicians to pay for advertisements in local media in order to get good coverage of their statements from journalists.
Varadkar has simply taken this to a new level by linking promises of advertising revenue to good news stories about his promises.
The irony is that Fine Gael politicians regularly complain about ‘fake news’ on social media. Maybe they should be more careful in their own glasshouses before they throw stones.