Letters to the editor: €6m SCU unit is spin of the highest and insult to the people

Dear Editor,

Despite my many human failings the two issues I have great difficulty handling is hypocrisy, and injustice.  Reports on two different issues in the same daily in the last few days made my “blood boil”.

Recently I wrote in The Echo criticising the new Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) set up by the government. The Taoiseach justified it by stating that “communication was very important, a virtue, and even suggested it was needed as  government weren’t  conveying “progress being made”.

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In my previous letter I described it as a “spin unit”. To confirm my views I need to reference comments in the report highlighting the hypocrisy of Taoiseach, and government on the issues.

It is not my intention to be political, but false respectability, and silence is the greatest cover for many wrongs. For the record the new SCU unit is costing the taxpayer 6 million euros. The following are extracts from the report:

“The Taoiseach moved to instruct the “spin unit” to ensure the Government gained credit for a major childcare policy ahead of the Department of Children”. An email obtained via a Freedom of Information request was addressed from Leo Varadkar to the SCU in July this year. The contents have shone a light on the  machinations of state spin.

There is a direct reference from the Taoiseach to shape a media campaign to show the Government in good light – even at the risk of taking attention away from the work of the department involved”

In an email dated the 9th July  Mr Varadkar wrote to the SCU   saying “I  think key campaigns coming up soon should also include the new childcare subsidy. Again, should be a thing the Govt. is doing for you, not the Dept. of Children and Youth. I think there should be a campaign throughout August”.

An email the following morning signed “JC” thought to be John Concannon head of  the new unit SCU replied “Sounds good. Will follow up with team re details of childcare programme, and get things moving for August”.

The direction saw Mr Varadkar attempting to ensure the Government got credit for an initiative long championed by Independent Minister Katherine Zappone.

The second issue is the story of the mother of Gavin aged 10 who died in a British hospital  waiting for a heart transplant. The mother is Maria Coyne, Clarehall, Dublin.

She describes after his tragic death, it took ten days for the schoolboy’s body to be returned home by ferry, and his family paid for his removal from Belfast port to his home in Dublin.  

The mother wrote to Minister Harris hoping he would be able to protect other families having to fork out thousands of euro on travel to the U.K. and to ensure all children, including those who die, are taken home by the Air Corps.

There were many other sad aspects Ms Coyne highlighted, but she never even got a reply from the minister.

She said her family felt “cold and alone” when Gavin died. “I’d hate to think another family would have to face what we did”.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said “the minister “actively strived” to ensure a “robust service” is in place for “timely transfer” of patients to the UK when organs are available”. I am sure these comments were “very consoling” to Gavin’s family. It was most insensitive, and uncaring .

These issues highlight the priorities in Government. It seems to be more about image than action.

It is spin of the highest, and an insult to the people. The mind set to prioritise childcare as a government decision rather than a departmental one is childlike, juvenile, and speaks volumes. It is just incredible to read the mind - set of the Taoiseach in the matter.  

When one considers the comments of the Taoiseach, and the reality  in the health service it is mind boggling. There seems to be no place for integrity anymore.

I do not expect any response to this letter, but should a miracle happen no doubt the fingerprints of the Strategic Communications Unit will be all over it.

One can only imagine what the six million spent on the SCU could do for the health service if spent wisely.

T.G. I have not got the education to spin. The handling of the above issues are the lowest of the lowest.

Aidan Thomas,

Tallaght

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