E-voting controversies and party political websites aside, the election year 2007 will be marked by the emergence of a variety of websites that foster debate on Irish politics and allow Irish citizens to track the online activities of their TDs and senators, a growing number of whom are also writing blogs.
Last weekend, a new website called www.politicsinireland.com was launched by prominent internet lobbyist Damian Mulley and Dublin-based web developer Rob Synnott.
The site enables web users keep track of every online mention of Ireland’s TDs as well as track political debate on a county-by-county or party-by-party basis.
Mulley explained: “Basically it allows you to see what discussions are happening online about politicians. It also allows you to join in debates that politicians are partaking in online such as on forums or through a particular politician’s blog.”
PoliticsinIreland.com joins existing sites such as www.politics.ie and www.irishelection.com as well as popular Northern Ireland politics site www.sluggerotoole.com. As well as the various parties’ own websites, there is evidence of TDs taking to the blogosphere to communicate with constituents. Noted bloggers include Labour’s Liz McManus TD, the Greens’ Ciaran Cuffe TD and Dan Boyle TD and Labour’s Joan Burton.
A persistent problem facing the Irish political system is the increasing age profile of the average voter, with fewer voters under 50 utilising their right to vote.
Some established political parties appear to have given up the ghost on under-50s voting in next year’s elections and are focusing their attentions on the aged but Mulley believes that the forum of the internet could play a vital role in encouraging younger citizens to exercise a right coveted elsewhere in the world.
“There is a certain demographic of Irish people that use the internet and by discussing hot issues online you may encourage them to take a greater interest in politics. These are people of a certain demographic whose lives are directly affected by their politicians’ decisions.”
He argues that the web can help otherwise disinterested citizens become politicised. “The internet can allow potential voters to look at the pros and cons of a political argument and make a decision. Your opinion on a politician or issue might change or maybe by participating in a debate with a politician in a forum you can influence that politician’s opinion.”
Mulley says that the internet could play a greater bearing on politics in the years ahead than many in the field may yet appreciate. “There is evidence that less people are reading newspapers and watching TV. Increasingly people are going online to keep up with their news. If Michael McDowell TD makes a statement early in the morning, lots of people would do a search through Google news to find it.
“Many of the websites focusing on Irish politics are actually party neutral: they are more community focused than a mere party affiliation,” Mulley added.
He added that while the Politicsinireland.com site was only launched on Sunday night, it had been operating in “stealth mode” while the team ironed out the kinks. Feedback yielded so far has encouraged the site’s owners to start work on adding in a search function in the near future.
By John Kennedy