A publicity campaign based around garda crime statistics, which was proposed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, failed to go ahead after concerns were expressed over the reliability of garda crime data.

Documents obtained by RTÉ show that Mr Varadkar suggested the idea of running a campaign based on "the good work being done by the gardaí as reflected in the falling crime rates".

However, discussions between the Department of Justice and gardaí reveal that the plan gave rise to "concerns regarding focusing on the CSO crime stats, given the current issues around publication".

The concerns were flagged by the Garda Director of Communications, Andrew McLindon in an email to the department. 

At the time of the discussions on a proposed PR strategy, in July 2017, the CSO was refusing to publish the garda crime statistics as a result of concerns it had over the reliability of the data supplied by the force.

The documents warn of a risk that the PR campaign proposed by the Taoiseach could be seen as a "propaganda campaign" to offset a range of negative issues faced by the force.

The Department of Justice told RTÉ that the PR campaign was being discussed in the belief that the CSO might decide to publish the garda data later in the year, and that there was no question of them setting out in any way to run a PR campaign that appeared to be a counter-narrative to the CSO's doubts over the accuracy of crime stats.

However, in the discussion documents, one senior civilian working with An Garda Síochána noted how the controversies over "homicides, data quality etc" was likely to continue and they should not let those issues stand in the way of a campaign.

The documents show that there was considerable attention given to whether particular meetings, reports and events connected to the garda controversies which could "impinge" on the proposed campaign.

The campaign ultimately did not go ahead.

Several opposition TDs have also raised questions about the wording contained in a small section of the strategy discussion documents, in which a Department of Justice official summarises previous discussions where they mention the "possibility of using a campaign as a springboard for other activities eg. The execution of bench warrants".

Catherine Murphy TD, leader of the Social Democrats said this raised questions over whether there was a blurring of the lines between operational planning and a publicity campaign.

Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary raised similar concerns and said he would be asking his colleague, party spokesperson on justice, Jim O'Callaghan, to bring this to the attention of the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

In a statement, the Department of Justice told RTÉ that all public bodies "have a responsibility to consider how the work being undertaken by those bodies can be communicated effectively to the public we serve.

"Despite the difficulties experienced, the fact is that An Garda Síochána relies on public trust to carry out its vital work throughout the State. In just the last few days there have been significant Garda operations targeted at gangland crime and illegal cigarette production.

"Highlighting such work offers reassurance to the public and can act as a deterrent to those engaged in criminal activity. Discussions about how to communicate regarding work of this nature takes place regularly.

"The proposal in question was discussed as a possibility but ultimately it was not proceeded with. In as much as it went beyond some general discussions as to the strands of work that might be highlighted, there was a clear focus on public information and public safety.

"There was no discussion at any point of seeking to promote the reliability of Garda data; at that time (summer 2017) it was expected the publication of crime stats would recommence in autumn 2017, as is clear from the papers released. 

"The range of issues with the crime stats and the length of time that it would take to resolve these were not known at the time.

"It should be clear from all the documents released to RTÉ that the discussion of matters such as bench warrants and other potential garda activities was in the context of highlighting developments that could take place; there could never be any question of An Garda Síochána undertaking activities for any reason other than operational imperatives".

Gardaí said they did not discuss correspondence or discussions with other third parties, but added that garda PR activity is based on "planned operational activity" only.