Independent Clare Deputy, Dr Michael Harty, is not convinced that Project 2040 will produce the balanced regional development that Ireland needs to counter the continuing expansion of Dublin.

Speaking in Dáil Éireann, Dr Harty said, “The plan is very urban centred, concentrating service and infrastructure development in five cities and a few provincial towns of strategic political importance.

“Vast areas of rural Ireland will fall further behind in job opportunities and sustainability. We need balanced regional development but we also need balanced development within our regions.

“Rather than having a view of not wishing to spread resources thinly, we should take the view that each citizen should have an equal opportunity to live and work outside urban centres, or at least have that choice.”

Earlier this week The Times Ireland edition claimed that the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit had purchased surreptitious advertising in national and regional newspapers.

Consequently, Fianna Fáil Communications spokesperson, Timmy Dooley, demanded the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach and the head of the Strategic Communications Unit appear before the Oireachtas Communications Committee to provide details of its Ireland 2040 marketing strategy.

“What has transpired since the launch of Ireland 2040 just 10 days ago is deeply concerning,” said Deputy Dooley. “The Government appear to be using taxpayers’ money, exploiting the vulnerability of the newspaper industry to advance a narrow party political agenda.

“I have met with many of the editors of Ireland’s national, regional and local newspapers and I am under no illusions as to the financial issues they are all facing.

“I believe that the Government is attempting to exploit the difficulties many local and regional titles are facing and use taxpayers’ money to promote their party interests.

“Paid for advertising content that is not identified as such, instructions to editors to ‘make these advertorials look like independent stories and part of the normal news cycle’, newspapers simply editing content supplied to them by the SCU or interview participants not being informed that their quotes would be used in government propaganda are all issues that need answers from the secretary general and the head of the SCU.

“Irish newspapers are in a financially precarious position, and that leaves them an easy target for a Government propaganda machine that does not mind ignoring appropriate boundaries.

“But Fianna Fáil is determined to make sure that this behaviour is properly examined and that those responsible are held accountable.

“A position paper outlining what needs to be done to protect and enhance Ireland’s print newspaper industry is being finalised by Fianna Fáil at present.

“It would serve the industry, and the public, better for the Government to fund the industry, in a transparent manner, without any quid pro quo rather than through the sort of propaganda we are witnessing now,” said Deputy Dooley.