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Fine Gael spent over €13,000 promoting by-election candidates on Facebook and Instagram

Facebook data shows Fine Gael outspent all other parties on promoting candidates through Facebook.

Fine Gael spent the most money on Facebook advertising.
Fine Gael spent the most money on Facebook advertising.
Image: Marc Morrison

FINE GAEL SPENT over €13,000 promoting their four by-election candidates throughout November via advertisements on Facebook and Instagram.

According to data available on Facebook, Fine Gael outspent all other parties during last month’s campaign with a total of €13,499. 

The government party failed to win a seat in any of the four constituencies, effectively losing a seat in Dublin Mid-West as their candidate, Councillor Emer Higgins, failed to regain the one vacated by Frances Fitzgerald following her election to Europe in May. 

The party came second in three of the four local votes, but its Wexford candidate Verona Murphy was beaten into third after a controversial campaign dominated by her comments about asylum seekers. 

Ads promoting Higgins, who lost out to Sinn Fein’s Mark Ward, appeared across the candidate’s page at a cost of €5,152. 

Her ads also appeared on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s page at a cost of €650 and now-MEP Francis Fitzgerald’s page at a cost of €412. The party spent €210 promoting Higgins via the page of South Dublin County Council mayor, councillor Vicki Casserly.

The amounts are listed on the Facebook Ad Library, which is an online portal of all recent ads that have run on Facebook and Instagram.  

Ads about social issues, elections or politics on Facebook must come with a disclaimer noting who paid for the ad.

The ad library was created by Facebook in a bid to be more transparent around who is funding online political advertisements, following controversy surrounding the spread of disinformation on Facebook during the 2016 US Presidential Election and the Brexit referendum in the UK.

Some €2,228 was spent by the party promoting Verona Murphy on Facebook and Instagram, while Facebook ads for Senator Colm Burke, who ran in Cork North-Central, appeared on his own page as well as Tánaiste Simon Coveney’s.

The total amount spent on Burke was €3,297 via his own page and €565 via Coveney’s page. 

Meanwhile, Facebook and Instagram campaign ads for senator and former health minister James Reilly, who ran in Dublin Fingal, came in at €994.

Other parties 

Fianna Fáil, who won two seats in the by-elections, spent just over 6,000 advertising their candidates via Facebook and Instagram.

Some €1,400 was spent by the party on the victorious campaign of Malcolm Byrne in Wexford while €1,438 was spent on the successful campaign of Pádraig O’Sullivan in Cork. Meanwhile, €1,030 was spent on ads for Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee in Dublin Fingal and €1,265 was spent on Councillor Shane Moynihan in Dublin Mid-West. 

Sinn Féin spent just under €4,000 on their Facebook and Instagram ads for the successful Ward and their other by-election candidates in November.  

The Green Party, which returned one seat through Joe O’Brien in Dublin Fingal, spent the least with a total of €310 spent by the party on ads for their four candidates. 

Failing to win a seat in any of the four constituencies, the Labour Party spent €1,646 promoting their candidates.

Under current rules, in a four seat constituency, such as Cork North-Central or Dublin Mid-West, a candidate can spend up to €37,650 in total on their campaign. In a five seat constituency, such as Dublin Fingal or Wexford, a candidate can spend up to €45,200.

Within those limits, there are no rules covering what proportion of a candidate’s outlay can be spent on online ads. 

Currently there are no spending limits for political parties using digital ad campaigns. Through targeted Facebook ads, political parties buying ads on Facebook platforms can select an age group, gender or particular area they would like to target. 

Transparency campaigner Liz Carolan of Digital Action said: “Candidates have spending limits for elections, and parties have transparency requirements on their donations and expenditure.

She added that ahead of the general election: “What will be interesting is to see how digital spending by parties impacts on candidate limits.”

Turnout in November’s by-elections was lower than previous elections, with the average percentage across the four areas not reaching 30%.

There were 43 candidates on the ballot papers for by-elections across the four constituencies, all bidding for the seats left vacant by the former TDs who were elected to the European Parliament this year.

About the author:

Marc Morrison & Conor McCrave

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