I gave up being surprised by Irish politics many years ago, but I have to admit I was blindsided by the Strategic Communications Unit SNAFU, and I am equally amazed by the lack of reaction to it.
Put simply, in a functioning democracy, the streets would be awash with political blood as politicians, advisers and spin doctors either fell on their swords or were hoisted on their own petards.
But in Ireland, Leo just stops tweeting for a few days and it all goes away.
What we seem to be missing here is that the SCU tried to undermine a crucial part of a functioning democracy by “buying” good news stories about the governm from reputable media outlets ent and passing it off as objective journalism.
It is the very definition of “fake news”.
Now the point can be made that the SCU and the agencies involved were never explicitly told NOT to do this, which begs the question – what on earth led them to believe that fooling citizens into believing that they were reading objective journalism was the right course of action?
It’s a perfect storm – the media industry is on its knees but it retains a unique power to inform and influence, especially the local papers.
Al the government’s representatives hd to do was make them an offer they couldn’t refuse – a phrase made popular in a book about the Mafia.
Not content with that, everyone from the Taoiseach on down then called into question the bona fides of the journalists such as Ellen Coyne who found them out.
Some would say to apologise to them now would be a sign of weakness; in fact, the opposite is true.
The lack of apologies, in some instances by people who should know much better, is a confirmation of the megalomaniacal thirst for power that the setting-up of the SCU is indicative of.
Put simply, the SCU is the Irish equivalent of a Russian bot farm, with the added insult that you are paying for it, and it cannot and should not be allowed to continue in its current guise.
The job of government is to communicate with citizens, not to market itself to them, and the pure ignorance of this fact displayed by the SCU and the agencies acting on its behalf is a danger to democracy.
What needs to happen – but won’t as in Ireland we don’t do accountability – is that a lot of people need to resign.
If you were part of setting up the SCU, you need to resign.
If you defended it while attacking journalists doing their jobs correctly, you need to resign.
If you were an editor and you accepted the conditions foisted on you to publish their material, you need to resign.
Does this sound harsh to you? Good.
Because it is happening not just in the SCU – politicians, civil servants and people in power are running departments and services all over Ireland like their own personal fiefdoms, and it’s why nothing ever gets better.
It’s why your elderly relations are on trolleys.
It’s why people are living in tents along the canals.
It’s why vulture funds now own your home.
If you are entrusted with power in a democracy, your job is to serve the people and not yourself.
Neither Leo Varadkar nor many in his inner circle, nor indeed many of those making a living out of Irish politics and civil society, have the humility to understand this simple, yet fundamental, democratic concept.