Tuesday, 14 December 1971
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. M. O'Leary: asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the circumstances which led to the employment of a Swiss public relations firm; and if he will state the functions of that firm in relation to his Department.
Mr. L. Belton: asked the Taoiseach what access to the services of the recently appointed public relations agency will be guaranteed to opposition spokesmen in respect of statements of international interest made by them.
In order to take fullest advantage of the possibilities arising out of our accession to the European Economic Communities and to counter the danger of adverse effects on foreign investment here and on tourism arising from the situation in Northern Ireland I decided recently that it was necessary to develop abroad a better understanding of Irish affairs, particularly in the European Economic Community as extended. My Department have, accordingly, made an initial six-months public  relations contract with Markpress-Geneva, an organisation with international experience.
The Taoiseach: The foreign service are not professionals in this field. I think the Deputy and other Deputies will appreciate that knowledge of Ireland is very limited among the ordinary people of Europe and I was anxious to ensure that people will know of our progress here and of the opportunities for economic development here, to the fullest possible extent so that we can take advantage of our accession to the European Community.
Mr. M. O'Leary: The Taoiseach referred to the necessity for a knowledge of Ireland. Was the Taoiseach satisfied that there was no comparable Irish public relations firm which could have carried out this task?
Mr. L. Belton: As far as I could hear, he did not even attempt to answer Questions Nos. 2 or 3. Question No. 2 asks what access Opposition Deputies will have to this agency and Question No. 3 asks if material emanating from this agency will be laid in the Library. To my mind the Taoiseach did not even attempt to answer these questions.
The Taoiseach: I was answering them in a general, global way. As far as Question No. 2 is concerned, I have no objection to Opposition Deputies, if they have material which they think would be of value in serving our country in the manner I have indicated in the reply, making their material available to this agency and I am sure they will be glad to distribute it to the extent that it is possible. I do not think it is necessary to place this material in the Library because it is distribution of facts about our country.
The Taoiseach: This is a matter that is difficult to decide at this stage but I think people can rely on the judgment of this very experienced agency. I do not want to exclude Opposition Deputies from this service if they have something worthwhile to offer.
Mr. L. Belton: Can the Taoiseach say whether Opposition members will have the same access to and know of all material emanating from this agency or will it be known only to the Government, in which case the Government  would be at an advantage to use this information for their own ends?
The Taoiseach: There is no party political propaganda involved in it. This is an exercise to disseminate good information about Ireland and to make sure that the prospects of development and investment within our country are known throughout Europe. Let me repeat again that one of the most chastening things I ever experienced was when I went abroad in a private capacity and found how little was known in Europe about our country.
Mr. M. O'Leary: Would the Taoiseach agree that his ignorance of whether other countries are employing the services of this firm would affect their suitability for our purposes? The Taoiseach said that he does not know whether they are employed by other countries or not.
The Taoiseach: I had an assessment made of their ability and their capacity in this respect and I am satisfied that they are well qualified. I did not fully answer Deputy Belton a while ago, and since Deputy Corish is here and has asked supplementaries, I would have no objection to Deputy Corish and Deputy Cosgrave talking to the representative of this agency.
Mr. Corish: We would want to fee free and to be free to criticise the EEC if we ever go into it, and the Government's attitude towards the EEC Would that be allowed? There are more points of view in the country than that of Fianna Fáil.
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