By Conor Ryan, Political Correspondent, Irish Examiner
THE Government Press Secretary, Eoghan Ó Neachtain, has defended his record after he was asked by the new Coalition to remain in situ while his replacement is shepherded in. He said he would stay in Government Buildings for an indefinite length of time, likely to be three months, until the current Fine Gael press officer, Feargal Purcell, prepares to take over.
Mr Ó Neachtain rejected criticism that he was a direct link to discredited administration which did not take the idea of accountability seriously.
He said as press secretary, he communicated the decisions of the Government and did not have a responsibility for generating information.
“My function is dealing with you [the media],” he said.
Mr Purcell defended Mr Ó Neachtain. He said it was the role of spokespeople and press officers to communicate with the media. And he said he felt it was “ridiculous” of journalists to ask these people to comment on their own positions.
Mr Purcell also confirmed that he had been offered the job of Government Press Secretary but a contract had not been signed.
He said the details were still to be worked out along with who would be hired as his deputy.
However, Mr Purcell said there was nothing wrong with the new Government’s decision to retain Mr Ó Neachtain’s services for a period as he had expertise which he could pass on.
Mr Purcell said both he and Mr Ó Neachtain were former soldiers in the army.
And, he said, as “army people”, it would be considered “probably a bit silly” to transfer functions without benefiting from the knowledge of outgoing officers.
Mr Ó Neachtain was initially hired by Bertie Ahern when he was working as communications officer at the ESB, a job he took on after leaving the Defence Forces.
He was kept as press secretary by Brian Cowen however was criticised, particularly over the maligned communication of the arrival of the IMF.
Mr Ó Neachtain said he had been asked by the incoming administration to stay on and he said he was “happy to do so”.
But he said he did not know how long he would stay in the job.