Regional newspapers claim they were asked to make government ads look like real articles

Ireland's two main opposition parties have called on the government to scrap its Strategic Communications Unit.

It comes amid controversy over instructions the unit gave to newspapers about government ads.

A number of newspapers claim they were told to make government ads for the Ireland 2040 plan look like real news by the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU).

The government has denied the claims - insisting the SCU issued no such instructions, with a third party organisation hired to contact the papers.

This afternoon, Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary said there are basic fact facts to be taken away from all the 'he-said she-said' that has been bandied about in recent days.

He said it is "clear" that local papers published "puff pieces of editorial" featuring selected Fine Gael election candidates that were paid for by the Irish taxpayer.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty during his party's demonstration against the SCU outside Leinster House, 06-03-2018. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty meanwhile said it is time the unit was removed:

"This is an abuse of public money," he said. "This is a legitimate issue and the Taoiseach has crossed the line."

"I think he understands that himself - by coming out yesterday and saying that his so-called independent review will look at the potential of disbanding this unit.

"He recognises in my view that he has done wrong."

The Taoiseach has asked the secretary general of his department to review the SCU, including the possibility of disbanding it.

Deputy Doherty however has warned that the secretary general had a key role in setting up and overseeing the SCU and, as such, is not the right person to carry out any review.

He has called for those behind the unit to appear before the Public Accounts Committee.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty seen through a press camera lens outside Leinster House, 06-03-2018. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews


Last night however, Leo Varadkar hit out at the criticism from the opposition:

"They accuse me of spin - but they are pretty good at it themselves," he said.

"Their spin is to make sure that we don't talk about that plan.

"They don't want the public to know about it; they don't want the public to hear about it so they want to focus on the process around it and they will now talk about the marketing of it."

The review of the unit is due before the end of the month.