Both sides spinning the web to get their messages across


ANALYSIS:The internet is now a vital and innovative resource for both sides of the campaign, writes STEVEN CARROLL

A REFERENDUM Commission Bebo page, a Labour Party blog and a Libertas e-mailing list are all playing their part in what has become the most internet-heavy political campaign to date.

Political campaigners, anxious to attract the attention of the youth vote in particular, have decided if you can't reach your target in person, you can at least join them online.

Labour Party European affairs spokesman Joe Costello said the internet has been vital in the Lisbon campaign, which he believes has had a stronger web presence than any other.

"The internet brings a new dimension to the campaign which brings in a whole new category of people that might not be involved politically at all.

"We got involved in creating a web presence at the beginning of the campaign because it was an area we felt merited a lot of attention," he said.

Through its website Labour has outlined its opinion on Lisbon, blogged about its campaign and even offered people an opportunity to earn €1,000 by producing an ad for the party's Lisbon Treaty TV advertising campaign.

Costello said the website is not specifically aimed at younger voters, but rather at the "internet audience". He added that he expects the medium to become even more prominent in political debate in the future.

For less established groups, without the funding of a big name party, the web has provided a solid platform for them to get their name out there and generate a following for their campaign.

Richard Greene of Cóir, an anti-treaty group, said its website had helped the organisation to amass support since it was launched earlier this year.

"In our campaign we have found the internet very effective and we've been using YouTube, Bebo and Facebook to inform people about the referendum.

"Through the website we have reached young volunteers and voters and we have had a serious amount of interest. It has been extremely busy," he said.

Greene said supporters had been forthcoming with donations through the website and this money had generally been coming from "ordinary people paying reasonable amounts" like €50 or €100 to support the No campaign.

Brendan Kiely, director of the pro-treaty Irish Alliance for Europe, said his organisation had accepted the internet was the only way to reach new generations of voters looking for information.

"We're launching a Facebook site and we'll use that to inform and help people to link up and volunteer.

We'll also have a Bebo page," he said.

Kiely said the cost of a website was minimal when compared to other campaign costs and that for a small fee the alliance had been able to reach a new audience.

David Cochrane, campaign director for the anti-treaty group, Libertas, said the internet was now a vital tool in generating and informing political debate.

"We don't have the established foot soldiers and the website has been very strong in getting people active and involved in our campaigning," he said.