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Tweeting the election: How one TD really saw the 2011 campaign

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin kept a diary recording all his tweets – and what he really thought – throughout the 2011 election campaign. Two years on from the election, he shares some of them for the first time.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
Image: The Labour Party via Flickr/Creative Commons

THE 2011 GENERAL election was the first Twitter election in Ireland.

Since the resignation of then-Defence Minister Willie O’Dea in 2010, in part because of a carefully composed tweet, Twitter became part of the daily political discourse as politicians and candidates posted their thoughts, policies, pictures and links in the competitive war to raise profiles and attract eyeballs.

The beauty of Twitter is that it allows your followers to view you in a different lens from the normal political script, and to engage with you on a variety of topics political, personal, trivial and even philosophical. It also allows politicians break some news at appropriate times, and share views on national events without the constraints of a formal press release.

This article is based on tweets from an e-book I compiled using all the tweets I wrote over the course of the general election campaign, from the announcement of Labour’s motion of no confidence in the government to the day of the election result. It is made up of the tweets themselves as well as my commentary on what happened.

It is important to consider that the commentary on the tweets was completed in the months immediately after the election in February 2011, when my memory of events and emotions was still raw and fresh, and not two years later. Therefore, the commentary provided is frozen in 2011 and has not been altered to take account of two years in government and developments in 2013. The tweets and reflections are frozen in time.

The archive of tweets are a reminder of an incredible period, and an attempt to illustrate the twists and turns of the most remarkable and historic General Election since the Civil War.

Thursday 20 January:

Brian Cowen finally named the day.

A more honest tweet would have read: #AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

The General Election is called for March 11th. I didn’t think I’d be able to take a campaign that long. However to think that I could be a TD in fifty days’ time was a scarier thought.

It was Tony Gregory who first told me that I was going to be a TD at a function in the Sheriff YC soccer club shortly after my election to the City Council in 2004..

‘Keep plugging away and you’ll be a TD. I’ve no doubt about it’, he told me as I sipped on my pint and got all-star struck again.

Tony Gregory was more of an institution than a politician and he was a hero in our house during my childhood. Even in the extremely interesting political times of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Gregory stood out among the throng. He was young, good-looking, articulate, angry and he had something to say – in fact he had a lot to say. And he looked different as his refusal to wear a tie, a reputation that was earned apparently completely by accident, marked him out as something quite unique.

His political activism was born out of the disadvantage of the North Inner City which was almost completely disregarded by the two main political parties in the land. Nobody spoke about issues such as housing, unemployment, poorly resourced schools and drugs like Gregory did, and he took no prisoners.

I never met him during his sickness. The odd e-mail sent from our school inviting him to various events was always replied to but he was unavailable for obvious reasons. I didn’t share all of his political philosophies or indeed some of his methods, and I wouldn’t dare – as Bertie Ahern attempted – describe him as a friend. But to me he was a hero, and I am very glad to have met and to have known one of mine.

And now I was 50 days away from sitting where he sat and to say some of the very same things that he had said.

Very very scary.

Friday 21 January:

What incredible hurt.

This was my fifth election campaign, and third personal campaign, and I had never ever heard anything like what I was hearing now about any political party.

It was blind rage, naked venom and genuine loathing. I could not over emphasise the danger that some Fianna Fáilers would be in if they called at some of the doors I was at that afternoon. Politicians are rarely overly welcome at any door, but the people were genuinely lying in wait for FFers.

The largess of previous Fianna Fáil campaigns, including all the bombastic razzmatazz that normally takes place in Dublin North Central, was certainly a thing of the past .

So no more Ivor Callely jazz bands at Nolan’s supermarket. Yes. Jazz bands. Honestly.

Sunday 23 January:

My campaign manager put down a whopping €3 bet on me winning a seat yesterday #ge11

My good friend Rónán managed my campaign in 2004 with another pal Barry. He then followed up with the next local election campaign in 2009 and was inspiring me onto further ‘glory’ in a general election campaign.

His fate in my ability was undented – as could be seen so clearly when he presented me with a €3 betting slip dependent on my election!

Himself, Owen and Morgan were the threesome running the campaign and keeping me as far away as possible from any decisions.

It would kill me if my very public political failure would cost Rónán €3.

Wednesday 26 January:

Very positive reaction again tonight. My local work on bus services raised regularly. Reputation of our country a source of major concern.

Having red leaflets was a big plus. One Sinn Féin candidate already confided in me that they have been run off doors because their literature is being confused for Fianna Fáil bumf!

Thursday 27 January:

Two interviews straight after each other jumping from English to Irish…..well something approaching Irish anyway..#ge11

What is the Irish for ‘Blanket Bank Guarantee’, ‘Economic Illiteracy’ or ‘Celtic Tory Consensus’? What’s the Irish for ‘I’m cranky as feck, how are you?’

Tuesday 1 February:

The start of Fianna Fail’s election campaign. (Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

Met my first FF voter today. Then elderly Wexford lady who rooted in her purse to offer me €5. Didn’t accept but gesture was lovely.

The atmosphere has been so hostile to Fianna Fáil in the last number of days that when I met my first Fianna Fáil supporter I was genuinely taken aback. They still had their support and it was becoming increasingly apparent that it was between myself and Seán Haughey for the last seat.

The Independent Finian McGrath and Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton were safe judging by the reaction on the doorsteps, so the main line of argument with voters was if you wanted Fianna Fáil out, vote Labour. That line seemed to be having an effect with those who harboured serious resentment against the main government party and was helping us atmany doors. However the prospect of having a constituency like Dublin North Central, the former home of Ivor Callely and the Haughey Dynasty, not returning even one Fianna Fáil TD was almostunthinkable. Especially as they were only running one candidate.

Fianna Fáil has one factor that is very difficult to overcome – the unwaivering traditional support of a certain generation of Irish voters who cherish and exercise their votes.

However Labour do have similar traditional support, one of whom I had the pleasure of meeting that day. Calling to a door in Coolock, an elderly lady nodded at my opening few words and then disappeared back into her house, pottered around for a good five minutes before reappearing with a five euro note in her hand. ‘My father was a Labour man’, she told me, ‘and he brought us all up to be good people even when we had absolutely nothing’.

The fiver was an election contribution, which wasn’t appropriate to accept, but which caused my eyes to moisten none the less.

Wednesday 2 February:

Eamon Gilmore with candidates at the launch of Labour’s general election campaign at the Guinness Store House (Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

Great atmosphere at Labour Election launch this morning. Long day ahead!

Strange atmosphere at the election launch to be honest. It took place at the Guinness Gravity Bar which wasn’t the most appropriate place in my opinion but it was a great view of the city.

Inevitably I was late and arrived sweating like a pig on the back of a bike.

One of my twitter followers @anniewestdotcom waved and shouted at me as I cycled past but I had no time to stop.

There seems to be a sense that we should be doing better, and there was a slight tension in the air in the room. I got a great seat just behind the leader’s podium which means you might get your mug in a photograph somewhere.

Pat Rabbitte had made some comments the previous day about Fianna Fáil candidate photo-shoots which were described as sexist in some partisan quarters so he was rewarded by being photographed surrounded by women for the morning.

Candidates came from all over the country and it’s great to have a chat with the only other people on the universe who know what you’re going through. Most seem to suggest that I was home and dry and I hated that sort of talk.

Wednesday 2 February:

Just did college radio interview. Newstalk tonight and Raidio na Gaeltachta ar maidin.

It was game time now. My diet has gone to hell and I’m not exercising properly. I was as irritable a cat in a bag and there was three and a half weeks to go.

We were back in our tribal trenches and would stay there for the foreseeable future. But in all media interviews it’s important to be as reasonable as possible, and to be a considered voice. Not always easy.

Posters take a fair battering! #ge11.On the way to Harmonstown. Newstalk after.

(Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Posters were getting blown all over the place and I wasn’t impressed. The posters were crumpled, slipping down the poles, and were blowing off completely onto roads and in front of moving traffic.

Phone calls were beginning to come in complaining about hazardous postering around the constituency.

I rang Labour’s National Organiser to ask if other candidates were having a similar problem with their posters and he retorted with the following statement in his unmistakable Corkonian tones….

‘Would ya f**k off…half of them are in f**king Scotland’

End of conversation.

Quote of the day: ‘Better the devil you know’. Oh Lord. #ge11

Another Fianna Fáiler. You can’t argue with that. No point. Thank you and goodnight. Overall more people couldn’t wait for election day to give Fianna Fáil the hammering they deserved.

Most Fianna Fáilers are more cunning and try to put you off your game. The following statements are dead give-aways that you’re talking to a die-hard FFer.

  • I was Labour all my life but not now. (Translated: I never voted Labour but they’ re really annoying me now)
  • I’m not voting. (Translated: I can’t vote Fianna Fáil cos they’re hopeless but I’m not voting for you)
  • I don’t even know who are. (I know who you are and you’re not Fianna Fáil)
  • Yous are all the same. (You’re not the same as Fianna Fáil)
  • Why are you letting them away with it? (Fianna Fáil just need direction and you’re not helping!)
  • I voted Labour until Mary Robinson brought the blacks into Ireland. (No translation necessary)
  • All you lot want is abortion. (Why bother?)
@davidcochrane I wish I wasn’t here.

Appeared on ‘Coleman at Large’ on Newstalk which I wouldn’t be doing again in a hurry. There were four other panellists in studio and two others on the phone line but none of us got to contribute more than the opinionated host Marc Coleman.

The excited Mr Coleman believed he had gotten the scoop of the century when on a recorded interview, Eamon Ó Cuiv seemed to prevaricate on the matter of Fianna Fáil’s support for a united Ireland. So on the day after the most important election in the history of the state was called, we were talking about…..a united Ireland…..really on the edge stuff.

There ensued two hours of nonsense radio which was so bad that I eventually openly tweeted my displeasure to another panellist David Cochrane. I don’t mind right-wing radio hosts, I do mind when you can’t get three words out of your mouth before getting interrupted or cut off.

Wasn’t this the guy who wrote the book ‘The best is yet to come’ about the Irish economy in 2007? I just wanted my bed.

It is deeply frustrating for those of us on the left, who rejected the vulgarity of the Celtic Tiger excesses absolutely, to see the political vacuum created by the failings of the right to be filled by right-wing commentators.

What was even more frustrating was the dismissive attitude they displayed for those who had been battling for balance in the Irish economy for years and then feel that running for election in leafy Southside suburbs is a brave statement for political purity.

Yes that tweet was aimed at you guys….So there!

February 6:
On door today in Marino. Kind permission for photo given by resident. #ge11 http://yfrog.com/gzf7xfajMonday 7 February:

There has to be hope. Families are hurting. Bleeding. Tough night listening. V tough. Feeling helpless. There has to be hope. #ge11
It was horrible. Every single door was pain. Rónán complains that I spent too much time at each door but it was impossible to walk away. There was naked desperation at every house. Tears in almost every eye. Couples who were at breaking point because the very walls that surround them were eating them alive. Parents who have sent their children overseas, children who were filled with resentment and who never want to come back. Pay cuts crippling homes, pilling guilt on top of desperation for families who can barely look their kids in the eye anymore. And then there was the unemployment.

And unemployment is the worst, because none of the answers I have sound convincing even to me when faced with such raw grief.

So you don’t say anything but you listen. And you listen hard. And you make sure that no-one, no-one ever is allowed to do this to our people again.


Are they queuing up to vote for me? Not sure. Not sure if I care. But they are queuing up to vote. And they are angry. And they are waiting.

Friday 11 February:

Just did TG4 interview. If the bad grammar doesn’t upset you…the large pimple on the end of my nose will. #ge11
My nose is big enough without needing a pimple on the end of it.

Got a text that David Quinn has written an article in the Irish Independent attacking our canvassing outside of his local church in Clontarf, considering that we are a ‘pro-abortion’ party. It is a classic right-wing attempt to poison an election campaign with a deliberately misleading article about our stance on this most delicate of issues.

His article was an insult to every Catholic member of the Labour Party and was particularly upsetting to me as I know how devout my parents are.

Elections are dirty. They are difficult enough when people criticise what you actually believe in, but when deliberate and malicious mistruths are written about what you believe in for another hidden right-wing conservative political agenda its bang out of order.

Saturday 12 February:

Disaster.

We’re leaking support and Fine Gael is flying. With two weeks to go they’re heading for an overall majority. The trend is not good and we’re in trouble. No-one is taking Fianna Fáil and Seán Haughey seriously anymore. He has a very low profile campaign and we only ever see him out with one other person. The hostility to FIanna Fáil is so great that he is apparently going through his database and only calling on doors of those he has dealt with personally over the last number of years. In fairness to Seán he’s a well-liked and respected local representative who no-one has any ill-feeling towards. But it’s not about him anymore. It’s about Fine Gael, Naoise Ó Muirí and the second seat they can steal from us.

Owen tells me he is certain we will win a seat.

And he is never certain about anything political.

I feel like we’re hanging onto a win but the referee is not willing to blow the whistle. The National campaign peaked too soon. Had our’s as well?

Wednesday 16 February:

Aodhán canvassing with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore in Raheny (Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland).

Ah yes, my daily ‘what an incredible response from the doors’ tweet….#ge11
Response was good but not fantastic.

Important to put the positive vibes out there in case any other campaign team is following us on twitter. More abortion stuff today and the odd ‘high tax’ comment.

We’re still confident about winning the seat even though Fine Gael are riding high. Naoise Ó Muirí’s name was not coming up that much and he needs to get a strong first preference vote to stay in the game.

Fine Gael was pulling a trick up and down the country of putting out leaflets asking for first preferences for their weaker candidates all across the constituency as they are worried their sitting TDs will romp home and the vote won’t be shared around.

Richard Bruton gets enough of a personal vote to elect himself so if can convince the loyal FGers to vote Ó Muirí number one in sufficient numbers they could pull it off. All politicians are selfish though. I was hoping that Bruton was too.

Tuesday 22 February:

Another woman breaks down in front of me talking about emigration in her family. Friday can’t come soon enough. #ge11
This campaign sank nails into every nerve, every emotion and every vein in my body. It is beginning to take its toll on all the canvassers. Some complained again that I was spending too much time at each door but what do you do when a grown woman bursts into tears in front of you because her sister has emigrated this week?

I wanted to hug her to calm her down and comfort her I felt so damn useless. I just wanted Fianna Fáil gone. Gone gone gone.
Great reception in Elm Mount today. #ge11

Lousy reception in Elm Mount. The area had obviously been canvassed earlier in the day by someone who whipped up the abortion scare, because it came up at every second bloody door. It might have been the time of day, or the particular area, but I found myself having the same debate over and over and over and bloody over again.

It was utterly depressing and at one stage I got so worked up that I actually began shouting at one woman. She had to ask me to stop shouting at her before I realised that I actually was shouting. I wanted to go home and go to bed.
No-one can pretend that the canvass has gone well. It was pretty much a disaster. And I could smell the seat slipping away from me. Fine Gael would love this stuff. They can play these people to keep them onside.

23 February:

Another huge turnout from the local Labour members, friends and family. Really comforting to see so many friendly faces. The feeling is that voters don’t want an overall Fine Gael majority and are minded to vote Labour to ensure a coalition government.

The weather was much milder so wearing the long-johns again was a bad move. I was sweating a lot and wiping perspiration off my brow for the entire canvass. I really wanted to climb into a bush to take them off but the chance never came.

My legs hurt. My feet hurt. My fingers hurt. My head hurts. One more day. One more day.

Thursday 24 February:

Thanks to everyone for your courtesy over the course of the campaign. God bless democracy. #ge11

The final canvass is always a celebration of sorts. It is much calmer, more pedestrian and everyone enjoys it. I give a final rousing speech asking people to give two more hours to save Ireland from five more years of conservative government of the worst kind imaginable. They thought they could smell victory and we knew we were so close.

At the end of the canvas I always tell the very last person at the very last house that they have to vote for me because I can't finish the campaign on a downer.

Sunday 27 February:

(Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)

So delighted and humbled to have received the trust of so many. Honeymoon is over already. Time for work. Time for a new Republic. #ge11

Read: The full e-book by Aodhan made up of all the tweets he wrote over the course of the General Election campaign >

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About the author:

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin  / Senator, Labour

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