Meet Ireland’s first bitcoin politician

18 Apr 2014

Ossian Smyth, spokesperson for communications, energy and natural resources, and candidate, Dun Laoghaire ward

A candidate for Dun Laoghaire in next month’s Irish local elections, Ossian Smyth, has become the first politician on the island of Ireland to accept bitcoin donations. He said the cryptocurrency has the potential to bring more transparency to politics in Ireland.

Smyth, who is running for the Green Party, is an IT consultant who has worked with Microsoft and Citibank, and now works at St Vincent’s Hospital. He also mentors the local CoderDojo in Dun Laoghaire.

He is also the Green Party’s internet spokesman and representative for communications, energy and natural resources.

Smyth told that while bitcoin has been associated in the press with corruption and money laundering, he believes the transparency of bitcoin should also be appealing in terms of bringing transparency to politics.

“I think it is one of the most transparent ways of receiving donations. No one would know how much money can be donated into a bank account, but with bitcoin anyone can go to the block chain and look at the wallet.

“Over the next six weeks, the public will be able to see every transaction using,” Smyth said.

He said that under the current regulations, he is permitted to raise a total of €11,700, which is the equivalent of 30 bitcoin.

However, he only intends to raise half that amount, setting a target of 15 bitcoin.

Effectively, Smyth’s election campaign donation page can only receive bitcoin donations from other owners of bitcoin.

He said donations don’t have to be entirely in bitcoin – millibitcoins (mBTC) worth about €0.35, are also acceptable.

Time for transparency

“Bitcoin is not really a currency, it is more like an asset or a commodity, like gold. People who have acquired bitcoin tend to be people interested in government transparency and so may be aligned with my goals.

“In addition, the Dun Laoghaire constituency has the highest population proportion of tech workers than any other constituency in the State,” he added, pointing out that many workers at Google, Microsoft, Dell and a myriad of other global tech firms live in the area.

“I know from my mentorship at CoderDojo many of the parents of the coders work in IT and finance, and many of those are likely to be interested in causes like transparency.”

On the subject of transparency, Smyth, once in office, said he plans to eradicate the cult of secrecy in local politics in Ireland and intends to publish every document or contract that he believes is in the public interest.

He cited the fiasco over the Poolbeg incinerator, which has cost the State more than €90m (including €4m in PR charges).

“There are too many projects like that which have failed, cost the public purse, yet are smothered in secrecy. Too many times we ask ‘if only we’d ever known.’ My intention is to take whatever information I have and put it on my website.”

Returning to the subject of bitcoin, he said the State rules that no donations can be anonymous and any surplus donations need to be transferred to the local authority.

“Unlike cash, which can be totally anonymous, there is a way of following the digital trail on bitcoin transactions using whereby you can go to somebody’s wallet and see the transactions that have occurred,” Smyth said.

“The reason I went for bitcoin is it is the most transparent way I believe of receiving donations and I believe it is something that should appeal to politics in Ireland today.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years