Tag Archive for SInn Fein

Biggest failures in #GE16? Labour, FF, FG and journalism

What election were you watching?

The one I saw was the utter destruction of the status quo.

Incredibly, what a lot of my colleagues apparently saw was a resurgence of it, in the form of Fianna Fáil.

Who, incidentally, had their second-worst election on record.

I saw the outright rejection of the traditional right-wing (note – not centre-right) notion of “stability”of so-called Christian democrats as embodied by the singularly inept and staggeringly incompetent Enda Kenny.

I saw the annihilation of the Irish Labour Party, 100 years after its founder was tied to a chair and shot for his revolutionary tendencies, solely because it abandoned those people who begged it with their votes to protect them.

I saw an election where a motley crew of traitors and treacherous sleeveens record their second-worst election since 1927.

I saw the return of Lowry and two Healy-Raes in an indication that the parish pump of Irish politics is still in full flow in certain parts of the country.

I saw an election that saw Sinn Féin finally returned to the political mainstream after the horrors of the “Long War.”

I saw record numbers of small parties and independents returned as the establishment which has failed Ireland since the foundation of the state was sent packing.

And I saw a fourth estate in the form of the Irish media that couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Throughout the count, journalists and broadcasters have struggled to understand virtually all the phenomena described above, instead choosing the easy angle of the Fianna Fáil “resurgence” – despite the fact that it has seldom in its history been as weak as it is now.

The paralysis is evidenced by the “experts” called to give their opinions – almost to a man (and occasional woman), they are part of the establishment they built, all while the media stroked their egos.

We had the laughable sight of snake-oil salesman Pat Rabbitte calling anyone who annoyed him “ultra-left” and making the staggering observation that Labour – who pissed in the faces of the poor that voted for them and assured them it was raining – is the “only Social Democratic party” in Ireland.

We’ve had Jody Corcoran, whose Sunday Independent newspaper were the big losers in the election as their private Renua party ran aground on its maiden voyage, now lionizing Micheál Martin – a man they have consistently attacked for five years, but who now holds the balance of power.

And we have the return of the odious Conor Lenihan, possibly the greatest spiv of them all – a man who, together with his inept brother and the rest of their cronies, ruined Ireland.

Not only did he contribute to destroying the country – when he was done, he took his state pensions and jumped ship to tout for foreign direct investment.

For Russia.

The problem of Irish political analysis by journalists was laid bare by the pleasantries exchanged – “congratulations on your election/commiserations on losing your seat.”

Whatever you think of them, your job as a political journalist is not to engage in niceties with people in power, or those who would aspire to have it – it is to ask intelligent pertinent questions on behalf of readers and listeners and viewers.

Time and again last night, bitter Fine Gael politicians contended that it was up to the opposition to take the reins of government.

This conveniently ignored the fact that, despite their abject failure, they would still have a considerable influence on how that government might look, especially if they swallowed their pride and joined Fianna Fáil.

Elsewhere, Labour’s increasing variety of failures all used the same three words as the headed to the gallows – “the national interest”.

Seldom were either of these two self-serving, petulant narratives questioned by the journalists interviewing them.

As I’ve stated elsewhere many times, bias is not always conscious; it is sometimes a function of class and privilege and position.

It is my sincere belief that too many journalists are bound to their desks recycling press releases,tweets and Youtube sound-bytes, and not out in the field actually talking to people and building their own understanding.

In truth, far too many of those in positions of power in Irish media and who are in turn tasked with holding those in power to account are too close to be able to do so properly.

A case in point – when Brian Cowen imitated Ryder Cup golfer Philip Walton and made fun of his speech impediment late one night in a bar, there were plenty of journalists present.

Not only did they not report it – they laughed along.

If, then, reporters are too close to those they should be holding to account, it is easy to understand why they absorb the narratives fed to them like crumbs from the top table.

It is easy to see how the establishment line becomes the truth as quickly as it does.

If Labour are the greatest failures, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not far behind, we must be honest and say that journalism has also failed the democratic process in Ireland.

It is not an easy place to work, but the inability to either predict or explain the outcome illustrates the need for voices who go against the grain, who do not cosy up to the powerful, and who put no price on their ability to say what they see.

In short, what we need is more independent journalists, and less Independent journalists.

And until we get that, we will only be getting the part of the story the insiders and career politicians want us to hear.

If Martin had info and didn’t act, he too has covered up abuse

Whatever Micheál Martin is accusing Gerry Adams and the Republican movement of, it seems he is equally guilty.

Leave aside the utterly despicable tactic of using a child abuse conviction and sentence against Adams’ brother for political gain.

This after all is Fianna Fail, a party with nothing but contempt for the plain people of Ireland, including the victims of sexual abuse.

Martin’s utterances are very carefully-worded, but no less damning for that.

He claims to have information that “Republicans” have covered up cases of child abuse.

And if he – the leader of a party that still inexplicably calls itself “Republican” – had that information and didn’t act on it, then he is guilty of whatever it is he is accusing the Republican movement (by which he means Sinn Fein, and not his party, which ruined the country) of.

There is a delicious irony in the quote reported by Fionnán Sheehan of the Irish Independent, who reported that Martin apparently said:

This may have been a broader trend within the Republican movement.

Fianna Fáil calls itself “the Republican Party” – is it also to be considered a party of paedophiles, thanks to this crude smear by its own leader?

Maybe so – because if Martin had evidence of a cover-up of child abuse, should he not have talked to the Gardai, rather than the Fianna Fail press office?

This is where his story begins to come apart.

After all, Fianna Fail supported the children’s referendum, the passing of which will lead to the rights of children being written into the Irish constitution.

One of the expected pieces of legislation is to make the reporting of child abuse mandatory – something which Martin, despite claiming to have evidence – hasn’t done.

So why hasn’t Martin reported this cover-up?

There are many possible reasons, but the most likely is that there is no cover-up.

Martin has no evidence of a cover-up of child abuse by Republicans because there isn’t any – this “cover-up” is a hasty and ill-thought-out political construct executed to stop the haemorrhaging of voters from Fianna Fail to Sinn Fein.

The problem for Fianna Fail is that fewer and fewer voters remember when Sinn Fein were inextricably linked to terrorism, and nor can they remember when Fianna Fail were actually Republicans.

What they do remember is the fact that a succession of Fianna Fail spivs destroyed the country and surrendered its economic sovreignty, before being destroyed in a general election which many of their sitting TDs didn’t even bother to contest, such was the guarantee of humiliation.

They have slowly been allowed to rehabilitate themselves, mostly thanks to the fact that the Labour party have taken over their mantle of the party that changes its policies with the winds, and will say and do anything to cling to power.

But the big thorn in their side – and indeed that of everyone else – is Sinn Fein.

Disaffected voters, sickened by the hardship foisted on children, the sick and the elderly by a succession of austerity budgets initiated by Fianna Fail, are flocking in their droves to them.

Abandoned by the Labour Party and ignored by the rest, Sinn Fein is the only party that they feel speaks for them.

Are Fianna Fail worried? You bet they are, and at every turn, the established parties seek to drag up the past.

Jean McConville´s name is regularly shouted across the Dail chamber, always out of context, always by someone out of ideas.

I am no fan of Gerry Adams. His ridiculous insistence that he has never been a member of the IRA is as laughable as it is counter-productive. He has been party to despicable acts and he hasn´t always told the truth about them.

And if senior Republicans like Brendan Hughes – a man whose searing honesty about his own involvement in violence has taught us more than many would care to know about both the armed struggle and Northern Ireland in general – says Adams was a leading figure in the IRA, then I believe him.

But like him or not, Adams has taken political and personal risks to deliver a sort of peace in Ireland.

Micheal Martin, on the other hand, has played an integral part in the destruction of the Irish health service, and eventually the country itself.

He has never shown remorse, never apologised properly for his part in destroying the future of generations of Irish children to come.

And now he has either sat on his hands despite being aware of a child abuse cover-up, or he has fabricated the whole thing to exploit the pain of the family of a political opponent for personal gain.

Neither of those is the behaviour of a statesman. But both are unfortunately par for the course for a Fianna Fail politician.

Micheal Martin, like his party, is a stain on the Irish republic, and needs to be dispensed with if Ireland is ever to recover a semblance of what passes for democracy.

Delendum est.

The Ten Commandments of Irish Journalism

And lo, the Lords did not answer their e-mails, or return the phone calls, leaving the faithful to draw their own conclusions.

These commandments have been handed down to me on my two tablets (an iPad and a Samsung) and hold as true now as they did in the days of Moses (and Dev):

Denis O'Brien addresses editorial staff

1. Thou shalt honour The Editors that commission you above all else. Nor shall you have other gods before the Editor, unless it happens to be another Editor that offers you a tenner more for your thousand-word rant attacking the unemployed.

2. Thou shalt, as far as possible, portray as craven immigrants, those on social welfare, public servants and travellers.
But never fellow journalists, as we are all untouchable and never do anything wrong. Ever.

3. Thou shalt not take the names of your Gods in vain- holding editors, publications and other journalists to account is neither desired nor acceptable. Let’s face it, you could be working for them tomorrow.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, and that your best bet for getting published on it is to attack Sinn Féin or RTE as viciously as possible.

5. Honour your father and mother. This is best done by writing under a pseudonym so the neighbours won’t be able to identify you as their progeny.

6. Thou shalt not kill a story for lack of evidence – if the facts don’t bear it out, make some up. Most people won’t check, but if they do just ignore them and after a while your version will magically become the truth.

7. Thou shalt commit as much adultery as possible by writing for eveyone who asks you, and many who don’t. You can’t eat loyalty.

8. Thou shalt not steal – but if you must nick an idea or a quote, try not to get caught.  Under no circumstances should you ever credit other media as a source. Ever. This is not negotiable.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbour. Save that for the foreigners, or the lads in the next parish.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house. Instead, thou shalt describe it as “a handyman’s dream” or whatever the estate agent or PR fop tells you to.

Thou shalt also remember that news is just a vehicle for advertising, and everything can be sold for a good price.

Except your stories, for which no-one is willing to pay more than a handful of peanuts for.

‘Cheque mate’ proves silence is golden

Even if it doesn’t come from Michael D’s corner, there will be at least one more major twist in this election yet.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was around McGuinness, as too many powerful people cannot abide the thought of him representing them.

But as long as Michael D keeps on the straight and narrow, the prize will be his.

- ourmaninstockholm, October 4

So it came to pass.

Sean Gallagher- what now?

Seán Gallagher almost pulled off the impossible, blazing out of the pack only to fall at the final hurdle in what has been one of the most remarkable presidential races in history.

I heard his close friend and PR aide Jack Murray on the radio today saying that Gallagher’s biggest strength – the fact that he wasn’t a politician – turned out to be his biggest weakness too.

There is an immense amount of truth in what Jack says, but maybe not in the way he meant it.

Murray means that a more seasoned operator – a Gay Mitchell for instance- would have met McGuinness’s attack head on. As soon as McGuinness mentioned the cheque, Gallagher should have countered with a quip about fundraising or NorthernBank or whatever else would shift the spotlight.

I have been a student of Jack’s when it comes to media and PR and he is the best in the business. Gallagher’s polished media performances were a testament to his great skill and attention to detail in preparing his client.

But I am of the opinion that both he and Gallagher took their eye off the ball a little and left the door open for McGuinness.

Gallagher’s weaknesses were twofold – his FF past and his business dealings.

He seems to have made forensic efforts to ensure that his business dealings were all either above board or corrected and in truth there was little in them.

His distancing himself from Fianna Fáil wasn’t nearly as effective. Time may heal all wounds, but the public still remembers what Dev’s party did to them. Gallagher shrewdly left the party and cooled off before declaring himself as a candidate, but it wasn’t enough.

As ever in politics, there is no black and white, and Gallagher obviously didn’t feel comfortable condemning the party for its astounding stupidity in destroying the country. Instead, he tried to give the impression that he was a lot further removed from it than he actually was.

Bad move. When McGuinness placed him at the scene of the cheque on the Frontline debate, all of a sudden Gallagher was stuck, and the reasonably innocent business transactions started to look like the underhand actions of a Fianna Fáil bagman. Once that happened, it was all over.

Michael D- you'd be smiling too.

And there, waiting in the wings, was Michael D.

Ireland’s ninth president ran a campaign of almost total silence- no hype, no grand visions, his closet forensically cleansed of skeletons.

Instead, he let others do the dirty work for  him.

McGuinness delivered the hammer blow on Gallagher, Norris twisted the knife (‘I think the mention of envelopes was unfortunate’) and Davis called for him to explain himself.

By midnight Monday, the dragon was slain.

All the while, Michael D stood there looking presidential, his poet’s trap firmly shut- throughout Gallagher’s spectacular rise and fall, he said nothing.

As quickly as Gallagher rose, he fell again. Michael D was back at the top of the pile. Order was restored.

Gallagher is by no means finished in public life, but even his renowned confidence and positivity will have taken a battering.

He may not have won this race, but with the lessons learned here, don’t rule him out winning the next one.

Et tu Mary? Then fall, Seanie

One of these men has some serious skeletons in his closet. The other is Martin McGuinness.

I’d like to think that one of the reasons that people like reading this blog is the fact that I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong.

And boy, was I wrong about the Frontline presidential debate on RTE.

Perhaps I was suffering election fatigue when I sat down to watch it, but I think I can be forgiven for saying that I was expecting the same non-answers to the same irrelevant questions.

What followed, of course, was two hours of the most gripping television in the history of Irish broadcasting as Gallagher stumbled badly on the home straight, and, sensing weakness, Michael D moved to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

In the bitterst of ironies, it was Martin McGuinness- no stranger to a bit of cavalier fund-raising himself – who held the smoking gun.

He had spoken to someone who had handed over a cheque for Fianna Fáil to the value of five thousand euro to Seán Gallagher, in return for his dinner and a picture with Brian Cowen.

Never has something that sounds so unappealing cost so much.

It cost the donor five grand.

It may have cost Gallagher the presidency.

The rest of the candidates, who until that point had failed to find a foothold on the Mount Rushmore-like face of Gallagher’s entrepreneurial stoicism, gleefully queued up to twist the knife.

Even Mary Davis – the candidate most likely to be accused of kicking a man whilst he’s down – got her digs in and has called on Gallagher to come clean or suffer the wrath of the people.

She has done little in this campaign, but this late intervention may just turn the tide.

In another bitter irony, Gallagher’s problem is very similar to that of his prime adversary McGuinness.

Both have shady political pasts that they would wish to forget, or at least cast in a totally different light to what anyone else remembers.

Neither can afford the luxury of condemning their supporters in the shadows (McGuinness in the IRA, Gallagher’s in FF).

Gallagher’s problem, like McGuinness, is that when he denies his past, he loses all credibility. Instead of prostating himself before the electorate and begging their forgiveness, he left himself open to being caught out.

Gallagher could have been the first of the new FF breed, accepting both his own past and the wrongs of the Galway tent but promising to usher in a new era of politics.

Instead, he chose to minimise his part in FF, thus creating a hostage to fortune that, in the media climate of this campaign, wasn’t likely to stay chained to a radiator for long.

Like the banks of the Dodder, the floodgates have finally opened, and a much more damaging allegation is that he took payments form GAA clubs to secure funding.

As most people know, the GAA is an amateur organisation kept running by the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers, none of whom will be too enamoured at this prospect.

Add to this his seemingly odd (but seemingly legitimate) business transactions and we are witnessing a death by a thousand cuts.

I have written several times over the last few weeks that there was one major twist left in this race, but I don’t think that anyone in their wildest dreams could have imagined it would be a game-changer like this one. Not even Michael D.

At 1400 Irish time tomorrow the utterly ludicrous broadcast ban kicks in and the public pronouncements of the candidates will be effectively finished.

That means Gallagher has about 16 hours to save his campaign track or risk becoming the second candidate to throw this election away despite seemingly having it in the bag.

I have no doubt about the brilliance of his backroom team (some of them trained me in public relations) – the question is whether they can save him in time.

Watch this space.

You talking to me?

Travis: "You talkin' to me?". Martin: "No Travis, I'm talking to the other madman with the gun..."

The hardest part of not living in Ireland is not having access to the Sunday papers in all their chaotic, supplement-filled glory.

I miss having a big bunt of them thrown down on the breakfast table like a gauntlet every week, challenging you to digest them alongside your black pudding.

The worst of it is that I miss articles like this one by Jen O’Connell about why she won’t be voting for Martin McGuinness – not because I agree with her entirely (I don’t), but because of some of the important points it raises.

There is one in particular that never seems to see the light of day, and it gets back to the key question of all the coverage of the election- what are we being asked to believe about the candidates?

Much is made of McGuinness, what he says and when- what exactly does he think of the state he wishes to represent?  When did he leave the IRA? Who does he think he will be representing? When did he condemn the murders of Gardaí?

All these questions miss the most pertinent of all, and that is when Martin McGuinness speaks, who is he speaking to?

It’s not news to anyone that, every time Martin McGuinness opened his mouth during his political career, he was taking his life in his hands.

What most people don’t seem to realise is that he has been as much at risk from a violent split within his own ranks as he has been a target for the British or the loyalist paramilitaries.

Judged on his part in the peace process, McGuinness’s refusal to publicly condemn the IRA and its attendant atrocities is not a tacit acceptance; it is more a strategy for the preservation of both himself, the IRA and the party.

It is always taken for granted that “the Armalite and the ballot box” was a philosophy, rather than the day-to-day political reality of running Sinn Féin and the IRA for many years.

When they were speaking publicly, McGuinness and Adams weren’t speaking to us- they were speaking to them, their colleagues in the Republican movement who didn’t believe or trust the British or Irish governments, or anyone else for that matter.

There are a few no-go areas if you wish to survive in the minefield of Republican rhetoric.

You do not tarnish the memory of certain heroes or their deeds.

You do not question the validity or legality of the armed struggle.

You do not (until recently) condemn any acts carried out in the name of either of them.

McGuinness is no Ché Guevara, nor is he a Nelson Mandela, but he has done his bit for peace.

It was Adams and McGuinness, among others, who realised that the Long War was not going to be won by either side.

It was Adams and McGuinness who delivered the IRA to the negotiating table.

It was Adams and McGuinness who created a situation where the guns of their comrades- and maybe their own- could fall silent for good.

None of this could have been delivered by John Hume, John Major or Ian Paisely.

And none of this could have been delivered had Adams and McGuinness gone around publicly condemning the very people they were trying to coax out of the shadows.

And as she mentions in her article, Jen herself has witnessed what happens when violent Republican groups split away and carry on the fight by themselves.

What happens is atrocities like Omagh- carried out by the dissident Republicans of the Real IRA, who never boarded the peace train with the rest.

For some reason, what we are still being asked to believe about McGuinness is that he is a violent and dangerous man because of his IRA past, when all the evidence points to the fact that he has put it all behind him.

As I have previously written, McGuinness is probably still unelectable for precisely the reasons Jen mentions. But even if we are never going to vote for him, we should acknowledge that the political reality in which he operated was entirely different from what most democracies would be used to.

And for their part, if Sinn Féin are ever to be properly understood in the south, and if they are ever to become electable, they need to do a better job of of explaining not just why they did what they did, but who they were talking to when they weren’t talking to the rest of us.

Loving the alien- Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness, Derry, 1972.

“Running over the same old ground. 
What have we found? 
The same old fears.”

Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”.

Such was the initial muted reaction to his candidacy, it’s as if the papers couldn’t believe that Sinn Féin would have the audacity to nominate Martin McGuinness for the presidency.

The Sunday papers came and went without much comment, but as the week wore on his opponents became more and more vocal.

The latest to question the Sinn Féin candidate’s suitability for the Aras is none other than Gay Byrne, whose rampant ego almost led him into a campaign backed by a Fianna Fáil party that bankrupted the country.

Byrne, like many others, asked the simple – and simplistic – question; how could a former terrorist with blood on his hands be our president?

The fact that Eamon de Valera was sentenced to death for his part in the 1916 Rising seems to have been forgotten.

There is not a shadow of a doubt that McGuinness was heavily involved in the IRA at a time when it was carrying out some of the worst atrocities in the history of our islands, but he is not alone.

There are plenty of other democrats guilty of war crimes still roaming the free world, many of them still in office.

But that was a different time and place. Is he likely to pick up a gun again in the near future? Hardly.

However distasteful we find it, the truth is that at certain times in history, the honest, supine law-abiding citizen has a need for men like McGuinness – the tough guys who operate in a moral grey area well beyond our own comfort zone.

The sort of men who kill people and bury them in shallow graves without a fair trial.

The sort of men who make other men drive bombs into barracks before blowing them up.

The sort of men that prime ministers declare in public that they will never negotiate with, all the while inviting them in by the back door.

Though there are undoubtedly people on both sides of the paramilitary divide that enjoyed killing for the sake of it, I’d doubt McGuinness is one of them.

At the time of the civil rights marches, many in the Republic had already abandoned the nationalist community in the north to their fate , and if there is one thing that my dealings with our cousins in the north has taught me, it is that we in the south have little or no understanding of what it was like to live there in the darkest days of the Troubles.

We’ve had our fleeting experiences of bombs on Talbot Street and army checkpoints and armed Gardaí as the IRA and the INLA robbed banks and took hostages. We didn’t care for it much.

We also failed to notice that this was what life as like in the north for the best part of thirty years, with one exception- the security forces in the north were particularly hostile to one section of the community they were tasked with protecting.

Given our limited experience and our limited attempts to understand and assist, we are in no position to pontificate either way.

McGuinness has come a long way since his days of running around Derry with a gun. The same cannot be said for the rest of us, especially in the south.

Would he be my choice as president? Probably not, but part of the peace dividend for both sides is that Sinn Féin and the IRA would only engage in peaceful democratic means in the future, and this is what McGuinness seeks to do in running for election as our president.

The candidacy of McGuinness is not Sinn Féin’s reward for embracing democracy – it is our reward for allowing them to come in from the cold. Let’s not push them out again.

Meet the new boss…

Michael Noonan- hope springs eternal...

At first I thought there was something wrong with my TV.

When watching Dáil proceedings, a low humming could be heard.

I switched TV, but the problem didn’t go away.

I alerted the people at the Dáil, but their technicians were baffled by it. Then we copped on.

The humming wasn’t because of some technical fault.

It was actually Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams purring on the opposition benches, as the parties all around him scrambled to rearrange the deckchairs on our rapidly-sinking country.

Contrary to popular belief, it now appears that the big winner in the last election was Gerry, not Enda, and the big loser was Eamon Gilmore and not Mícheál Martin.

Martin was always destined to be cleaned out, but it was Gilmore who promised us “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”, before promptly giving us Frankfurt’s way almost before the final count was over. “Gilmore for Taoiseach” indeed.

The strutting confidence of Kenny and Noonan has all but disappeared, as Michael meekly declared today that he “hopes” that  promise to cut the Irish bailout interest rate will be honoured.

A marked difference from their promise in the now-legendary – and quickly forgotten – five point plan. “Fine Gael will take on the big vested interests that have contributed to the current crisis – the bankers, the bondholders, the developers and the unions”.

They all remain untouched, much as they would have had Martin somehow miraculously won. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

And so to Gerry, purring over Sinn Féin’s policies which were proved right, simply because by not being in power, he cannot be proved wrong.

It has turned out more or less as he predicted- we’ve swapped one for the other. The policies are no different.

The only real triumph in the face of this lack of creative thought by our government alternatives has been the writings of David McWilliams.

His ability to recast and rephrase the same or similar arguments and solutions has been remarkable, yet no matter what innovative ideas he comes up with, it seems that those in power will not listen to them, just because of where they come from.

It’s like turning down the cure for cancer because it was discovered by Jack the Ripper.

And this is essentially the choice that Irish people will face in the next election when it comes to Adams.

Will they be able to look beyond the skeletons in the Sinn Féin closet and effect real change, or will Adams and the party be condemned to continued atonement for the sins of the past for the foreseeable future?

 

Irish Politicians – Networking Or Not Working?

Open the papers, turn on the TV or check out your favourite blog, and the message is the same – this is Ireland’s first social media election, and commentators are queueing up to tell us how important Twitter and Facebook are going to be. But will the iPhone and the Android make a big difference at the ballot box? WIll the independents tweet their way into the Dáil? Will Enda’s ridiculous e-valentine force the electorate to fall out of love with him?

The answer is – probably not. Social media is becoming more and more important, but except in very limited circumstances it’s not going to make a difference.

The reason is simple -it’s a medium, not a message. Enda’s beloved five-point plan is still a five-point plan wheter it’s the subject of a Facebook group, a blog, a tweet  or one of those appalling campaign videos that are fast becoming the trademark of Fine Gael.

No matter where Gerry and Pearse go, they will still have to deal with questions about Sinn Féin’s bona fides on the economy.

And whether it’s a webcast or News at One, a viral video or a LinkedIn group message, Mícheál Martin still ruined the country (it appears that even he has been destroyed by the HSE, as setting it up seems to have given him amnesia). No amount of tweeting (even as gaeilge) will change that.

Social media is only useful in terms of spreading ideas – it does not create them, and as yet there is still a marked absence of big ideas in the campaign to date. The parties are still skirting each other like teenagers at a disco under the watchful eye of the ECB chaperones, but Twitter will not come up with an answer to the bank bailout disaster by itself, no more than it can ask the pretty socialist by the far wall up to dance for you.

But what social media will do is level the playing field. A Twitter account, a blog and a website cost next to nothing, and a PR person recently told me that a Facebook page is actually more valuable than a bespoke website these days. These simple tools combined with the few hours of donkey work involved in reaching out to various networks can help candidates at the lower end of the campaign financing ladder to even out the discrepancies.

I’ve been impressed so far by the likes of Kate Bopp and Michael Loftus, and less so by the main parties, for one simple reason – the independents are managing to come across as much more human than the auto-generated, knee-jerk trash being spouted via the communications departments of the major parties.

Whilst Kate is linking to audio recordings of debates and Michael is using Twitter to build a network, it is frankly embarrassing to see the strategies being used by some of the people at HQs who really should know better – canvassers breathlessly retweeting “great reaction on the doorsteps tonight, voters srsly concerned about quality of silage in West Cavan” when in fact no-one mentioned it at all.

The debates are even worse. It wouldn’t surprise me if FG had people lined up to tweet “thought Kenny did well there”, even for the TV3 debate that he didn’t show up for. The affirmation of the leader and the manifesto in 140 characters or less has become the new “we are where we are”.

Social media users see through this formulaic rubbish, and the Fianna Fáil canvasser who has the guts to tweet “got handed my arse by a single parent about USC tonight, and rightly so” will most likely win their candidate a damn sight more votes than our silage-loving canvasser mentioned above. Despite the possibility of anonymity, honesty is paramount in the not-so-brave new world of Twitter and Facebook – everything else is just anti-social media.

Those involved in the media in general are never slow to overestimate their own importance, but the truth is that very few commentators have any actual sway at all. The likes of Constantine Gurgdiev, David McWilliams and Miriam O’Callaghan have the capacity to reach a vast number of people, but for most tweeters the reach is limited and the effect equally so.

And yet one of the few growth industries in Ireland during this election has been that of social media commentator; but whilst it is interesting to hear what others are saying, it’s far from scientific and definitely not representative. Vincent Browne starts every show by mentioning the blog, the text line, the hash tag and the e-mail address, but the only thing that ever gets mentioned are a couple of tweets by Colm Tobin (not the novellist) before he looks at the headlines in tomorrow’s papers (Vincent, not Colm).

This election will not be decided by social media, no more than it will be decided in Brussels or Frankfurt. This election will be decided in the think tanks at the HQs of the major political parties – the party that comes up with the creative solutions to solve this country’s problems and the cojones to implement them will win the day. Those that don’t risk being wiped out, their places taken by independent candidates providing a fresh voice, if nothing else.

So far, we still haven’t seen any big ideas, on Twitter or anywhere else. And time is running out.

Note: Non-Twitter users can follow the Twitter activity of many candidates in #ge11 on http://www.politweets.ie