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Leo Varadkar: 'Crisis of polarisation' developing in Irish politics due to influence of social media

The Tánaiste said he was concerned about where Irish politics was going.

Image: PA Images

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said that Irish politics is becoming more polarised with social media facilitating one side of a story becoming “accepted fact within hours”.

The Fine Gael leader also expressed concerns at how the wearing of masks became a political issue in the United States, with a poll suggesting supporters of some parties in Ireland are more likely to take the Covid-19 vaccine than others.

Varadkar was speaking at a virtual event organised by the Washington Ireland Programme, along with US senator Chris Murphy and Jen O’Malley Dillon, campaign manager for US president-elect Joe Biden.

O’Malley referred to a “void” in the conversation in the United States where many engage only with arguments they agree with, and many still will not call Biden the president-elect following the election.

“We have so much work to do, and it’s going to take all of us. We can’t solve from one side to bring the country back together to heal from the crisis of the pandemic and the crisis of the polarisation of our politics,” she said.

Varadkar said he was concerned that Irish politics is going the same way.

“Social media is a big part of that. The wrong end of the stick, an inaccurate story, one side of the story can become accepted fact and truth within hours, because things aren’t mediated by the media, they’re just put out there on social media,” he said.

His comments follow increasingly fractious exchanges between supporters and members of Fine Gael and Sinn Féin online, including criticism by Varadkar, in recent months.

Earlier this week, the Tánaiste accused Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald on Twitter of justifying “internal party intimidation”, the “glorification of violence” and “latent homophobia” in response an interview given by McDonald on RTÉ radio.

That followed an apology by Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley last week over a tweet he sent about two IRA attacks on the British army, which was criticised by other parties, as well as controversy over another tweet he sent in 2017 about Varadkar when he was elected Fine Gael leader.

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Last month, Fine Gael also posted a number of videos to its social media accounts featuring its TDs and Senators criticising Sinn Féin for what it described as a €4 million donation “scandal”.

Several Sinn Féin TDs subsequently criticised some of those posts, with the party’s health spokesperson David Cullinane accusing Fine Gael of producing “Trump style attack videos” about his party.

Meanwhile, Varadkar also said he regretted not calling an Easter election, saying he believes Fine Gael party might have done better.

“Had that happened, we would have had the election after the pandemic and perhaps it would have gone a bit better for me and my party… we may have had a different electoral outcome and in my mind one that would have been better for the country,” he said.

With reporting from Stephen McDermott.

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