With the next general election less than a year away, the main political parties have already begun to stake their claim to seats and votes. However – while candidates will face the traditional scrutiny from newspapers, television and radio – wannabe TDs will have to contend with a new medium: the blog.
Irishelection.com is an Irish political blog created to give coverage to election issues.
Created by UCD student Cian O’Flaherty, the site is becoming an increasingly popular source of comment and analysis as talk of the impending election grows.
Blogging was almost unknown in the last election in 2002, but, by the end of the 2004 US Presidential elections, it had proved itself as a vital campaigning tool and source of independent debate.
In simple terms, a blog allows anyone, technically minded or otherwise, to create and upload content online. Irishelection.com is a group blog, which means that any number of people can contribute content; the site currently lists 48 writers with nearly 400 articles published so far.
‘‘It’s an attempt to get Irish bloggers together in one site, collate their different views and ideas on the forthcoming election and provide a one stop shop for those not au fait with blogging to pick up some independent commentary,” said O’Flaherty.
‘‘For me it’s a chance to air views that otherwise might not get an outlet. Most of the major interest and help has come from bloggers of a similar style who are blogging about politics from a personal perspective.
‘‘We get to take issues that matter to us and explore them: it’s that empowerment that sets blogs apart.”
O’Flaherty started blogging in 2005 on his own site, Progressive Ireland, and quickly found a community of young politically-minded writers, each with different views on how the country should be run.
With the 2007 election coming up, he decided to create Irishelection.com as an online hub for debate and discussion.
Contributors are free to discuss any topic at any length from any political perspective, with readers able to comment and discuss articles too.
‘‘The website has been a great success by my own standards.
“We have generated a lot of regular readers and we have generated a lot of varied feedback,” said O’Flaherty.
‘‘Some posts do tend to attract a lot of comments and others not. The site is still finding its voice and, on some issues, there has been really interesting conversation.
‘‘The most popular week or two was in the aftermath of the statutory rape debacle. A lot of quality posts were put out and a lot of the commentators made some really good points.”
Political blogging is not confined to the commentators; many politicians and candidates have set up their own sites. Given that blogs have been so widely embraced by young people, does this present an opportunity for politicians to re-engage with the youth vote? O’Flaherty suggested that, while blogging helped, it was far from enough to tackle apathy among young people.
‘‘I hope that blogging is only the tip of the iceberg because, if that’s all political parties can muster, then we can give youth up for dead. Action and the ability to affect change are the really important aspect of engagement.
‘‘If youth feels it can engage, act and change, then it will get involved with issues and agendas.
“Blogs written by normal people not living inside the narrative-driven structures of normal politics are an element of getting people back involved.
‘‘Parties have to show a commitment to driving public debate and public reasoning, not the faux public debate of the few who get heard.”
Whether Irish bloggers can influence the next general election to the extent of their American counterparts remains to be seen. O’Flaherty was cautious about the influence his site would have.
‘‘The Irish political system is a creature of habit and less open to new ideas than other systems. The old tried and tested routes are going to be adopted to a large degree, and blogging will be – at best – on the fringes, reaching a smaller number of more dedicated voters looking to expand on issues.”
While perhaps unlikely to become a defining influence in 2007, Irishelection.com is sure to be the scene of many heated discussions over the coming months.