Two sides slug it out in final straight


CAMPAIGNS:TIME IS running out. The opposing camps in the fiscal treaty campaign have less than a week left to get across their messages about the State’s future prospects for stability or austerity.

The posters have been erected, social media accounts updated and flesh pressed. After spending hundreds of thousands of euro between them, the parties will next week learn if their efforts to sway the electorate have worked out.

The camps have been broadcasting contrasting messages. The Yes camp has focused on “investment” and “recovery”, the No side on “austerity” and “taxes”. But has either managed to outdo the opposition?

“I think both sides are doing a decent job of getting out there and explaining it,” said Kevin Rafter, a lecturer in political communication at Dublin City University. “This is a far more straightforward referendum than we have had previously.

“It’s much easier to explain what this is than it was with Lisbon or Nice. It may well be the consequences are more confusing but what we’re actually voting on is very straightforward.”

Mr Rafter said that in terms of visibility and messages, neither side had taken a lead but that while the campaign might not be “particularly striking”, the public had been adequately informed.

“I certainly don’t think we can get to the end of this referendum and somebody can say afterwards ‘I didn’t understand’ or ‘I didn’t know’,” he said. “I think that is almost a dereliction of civic responsibility as there is sufficient information available.”

Those involved in the campaign acknowledge social media and an online presence have played a bigger role with each passing election and referendum, but the majority of spending and focus still goes on traditional methods such as walkabouts, posters and leaflets.

“The more traditional stuff does still have the wider reach,” said Socialist Party MEP for Dublin Paul Murphy, who is campaigning for a No vote.

“We have dropped a leaflet to every house in Dublin, posters have gone up across the country and literally millions of people will have seen them . . . our website has nowhere near that kind of reach.”

One of the more talked-about aspects of the campaign has been the posters erected by the Socialist Party, which directly link voting for the “austerity treaty” to household and water charges.

Mr Murphy said the party had “come in for a lot of stick” for taking this approach but that it was attempting to “make austerity real for people” as it can often be quite an “abstract concept”.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, director of elections for Fine Gael’s Yes campaign, said posters bearing “short, sharp and clear messages” were still a benchmark but there had been a “progression” towards online and social media activity this time.

“Online is hugely important for us,” he said. “There is a constant conversation going on around the referendum and political issues generally, which is very healthy in my view . . . A large portion of the population and voters interact more online than they do through newspapers and television.”

Mr Coveney said Young Fine Gael members had been driving the online debate for the party on Twitter and Facebook, with party members recording videos as a means to answer frequently asked questions from those interacting on its fiscal treaty website.

While it may be one of the most extensive online political campaigns in which the Irish electorate has engaged, Anthony Quigley, chief executive of the Digital Marketing Institute, said there was still much to be learned.

Mr Quigley said Labour – offering iPhone and Android applications and recording Audioboo soundbites – had taken a clear lead while the People Before Profit Alliance appeared to have little to no social media interaction on its website.

“Social media turns up at election time or voting time and a time the parties want to engage, as opposed to it being a consistent in-the-veins kind of thing,” he said.

“What political parties tend to do is take an anonymous approach to the whole thing and have somebody just tweeting outwards and not listening or really engaging – you can’t do that, it’s a very personal thing.”