Mattie Fox: SCU controversy takes gloss off plan for strategic improvement

During the 1987 General Election campaign, Fianna Fáil ran advertising on billboards, bus stops, and in newspapers, commenting that ‘Health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped’.

Although it was clearly identified as ‘advertising’ in all journals, in a strange way it backfired on Fianna Fáil.

After they won the election by a massive majority they immediately set about imposing savage cuts on critical health services.

This was the turning point as far as people were concerned, between politicians and the public.

Nobody truly believed in what any politician said after that.
The public were misled, terribly, by that single announcement, pre election. Instead of having hopes for old people realised, they were shattered.

Leo Varadkar came to power in a blaze of excitement, and everyone thought that here was a politician, who could somehow be relied upon to change the way politics was managed.

Indeed in this column we expressed great admiration for Mr Varadkar, and ventured the hope that he’d never repeat the attitudes of the past. Leo Varadkar was after all a very educated, clever man, whose beliefs were formed out of a different style of thinking than had become the norm.
A man with real talent.

He couldn’t be accused of gombeenism.

He really did not need to engage the awful dirty tricks style campaign that has recently been perpetrated on a thus-far-willing public. This was a step too far.

It was incredibly mistaken if An Taoiseach and the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) sought newspapers, to run as editorial, something that was clearly advertising. In one fell swoop he may have destroyed, probably beyond repair, the great reputation he had grown so carefully in the past.

We can thank Ellen Coyne of the Times Ireland edition for breaking the story. Without doubt someone was going to get the story anyway, that’s the way the media works. Ellen had it on Monday February 26 last.
The SCU is headed by John Concannon, who also oversaw Creative Ireland’s Gathering tourism initiative.

Back in October the Taoiseach told the Dáil that he did not personally appoint John Concannon to the SCU, which would have breached public-appointment rules.

But then, the Taoiseach seemed to contradict himself saying “I discussed it with the Secretary General obviously, before I appointed him as...... .... or before I...........or before I asked if he would be available to be appointed.”
Whether or not Leo can ever recover what’s been lost, is highly questionable. Never again will the public take anything substantial that he says, as fact, until it’s proven to be true.

Additionally this manoeuvre has taken the gloss of the 2040 plan for strategic improvement.

He’s now instructed Martin Fraser - who is the general secretary of the Taoiseach’s Department - to review the rules of SCU.

The Taoiseach tacitly acknowledging that all is not well, finally. Too late. Disappointing.

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