Whatever happened to the Irish political blogosphere?

I’m working on another review of the Irish blogosphere for Total Politics magazine.  One of the things I will be sure to feature is Splintered’s great constituency guides, and his spectacular breakout as compelling commentator on the English/Roman Curia, or the Tabletistas as he calls them.  Or the recent arrival of politicalreform.ie.

But given the fact that of all the Irish political blogs (including Slugger) shortlisted for the Irish blog Awards, only one, the Gombeen Nation, has been around since the awards started back in 2006. So is the Irish political blogosphere really falling in on itself? Is Twitter where the political debate is? Or the big discussion sites like Politics.ie or Boards.ie?

Or what is the story this year?

  • Perhaps I’m wrong but could blogs v twitter be compared to the differences between broadsheets and popular tabloids. This is a big generalisation but twitter seems to be for the many while blogospheres seem to attract less, and occasionally much longer contributions.

    It may be that in the busy world most people seem to inhabit, immediate impact over shorter attention periods are becoming more the norm.

  • The increasing popularity of Splintered Sunrise gives me pause to be sceptical about the inevitable rise of Twitter. His pieces tend to be long, and yet are carefully read and pored over by what is clearly a large and diverse audience (even if many of the leftist elements feel bemused and betrayed by the recent turn of events towards matters Catholic).

    I’m not sure, Mick, what your point about the length of time the award-nominees have been around actually is. I think it is that the blogs aren’t lasting? But that’s not necessarily the case. Last year’s winner wasn’t nominated this year, but it still exists for example. You could read the newness as evidence of vibrancy and expansion.

    The problem here is numbers. Without any idea of the numbers involved, then it’s hard to say whether the conversation has moved to twitter. I suspect not, and that for many bloggers, twitter is an advertising forum for the blogs themselves.

  • Mack

    But given the fact that of all the Irish political blogs (including Slugger) shortlisted for the Irish blog Awards, only one, the Gombeen Nation, has been around since the awards started back in 2006. So is the Irish political blogosphere really falling in on itself?

    Um.. I’m not sure I’ve understood this. Wouldn’t that indicate the opposite?

  • I don’t think Twitter is on the same page (yet), if it ever gets there. Everyone keeps wanting the story to be Twitter but its not comparable to most blogs/discussion fora since it is more a delivery method than a platform in itself (I am purposely not going to be snobbish about what you level of depth you can achieve in 140 characters). Twitter provides a good measure of a certain brand of celebrity culture (trying to get your name or story trending being the name of a particular game that is usually played). At a local level it has potential to deliver news (if you use trendmapping) but its not got there yet. Its achilles heel is that it can’t be effectively monetized, meaning it can only really be a bolt on. Whatever emerges as Twitter 2.0 will be a different kettle of fish.
    As to the alternatives – presumably people flit between different interest areas of boards.ie rather than leave the site. Has anyone been documenting the main blogs to see if any have disappeared and the authors re-surfaced as serial posters elsewhere? Maybe its just another side effect of the recession.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Time to go and mow the lawn !! 🙁

  • Munsterview

    Got any spare time when you are finished ? Could be some work going down here, nice school teacher chap in the West of Ireland who has been double jobbing as a politician, is again having trouble with long grass that apparently regrew as soon as it was finished.

    Last cutting job botched due to ill-considered sacking of all hired help; some since taken back but mood sullen and irritable, no reliable assistance available.

    Location Mayo area. Payment no problem, large donation donation recently received from builder taken into Nama receivership hence all funds State Guaranteed!

    ps call back if no one at home, owner may be playing golf with bankers following his recent succesfull game with builders.

  • Paddy Hoey

    Mick’s right, there has been a noticeable recent take-up of Twitter by many elected representatives and concerned others, but precious few attempts at the long form ‘journalism’ that the blogosphere offers.
    Does this say that the blogosphere, much heralded by American academics as a new frontier of policy articulation is dead and wasn’t as sustainable as the digital determinists claimed?
    I don’t know, but as someone working on a long term project looking at Republican media, I am struck by the contraction in the Republican blogosphere, even among the dissenting community.
    With the exception of Anthony McIntyre, Ardoyne Republican and a few others, Republicanism has few regular bloggers – a conundrum I have been contemplating for a while.
    That said the best Republican/ left leaning blogs/ bloggers: Sinn Fein Keep Left, Garibaldy, Cedar Lounge/ McGregor, Aldous and few others are doing a sterling job covering events which would ordinarily not be covered by the MSM.
    Three points: 1) The pictures illustrating Splints’ constituency guides were the laugh out loud funniest thing in the whole election,
    2) Let’s not have The Rebels Yell in the Top 20 this year, Mick, it’s a shocking blog, and,
    3) Is Slugger hoovering up the best writers in the blogosphere? That’s not a complaint by the way. As long as Keith, Alan, Mooch etc keep producing here, we’re on the pig’s back

  • EWI

    I’m still here, but just as an occasional guest contributor to the Cedar Lounge. Life and other pursuits take up far more of my time these days, and the original spur to my blogging (the Freedom Institute young fogies) have gone away, barring a brief re-emergence for a time as Ganley minions.

  • Mick Fealty

    I wondered where you had got to EWI… But seriously, am I missing something here? There are some great blogs starting up, but they aren’t necessarily on politics…

    This one is great: http://graham_mckenzie.typepad.com/ and getting a decent traction from some good people…

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Politics isnt everything.
    Or maybe everything is politics.
    In its day the Blog wasa revolutionary concept……we are all journalists now.
    BUt like all revolutions there is a tendency to reign in the “ultras”.
    I think Twitter is seen as “ultra”….a snapshot rather than developed thoughtand appealing in some senses to celebrity addicts.
    Has the Irish political blogosphere fallen in on itself?
    No……not yet.
    But the heyday of the political blog has passed.

    The biggest weakness in the better Political Blogs…is their success. Quality and Quantity cannot co-exist. And people no longer are willing to accept that there is something counter culture about blogs…..they are as much part of the mainstream as the “mainstream media” they purport to despise.

  • JimRoche

    But the heyday of the political blog has passed.

    Possibly. In the early days I would seek out new blogs but once you have the few you like its hard to make room for another unless it is exceptional.

  • I think there are a number of factors influencing things, 1) the smaller scale of the market means you’re not going to get an iain dale/guide size of operation unless you have an existing media profile or someone in the mainstream decides they like and gives you a leg up 2) people are more into the discussion and back and forth rather than the broadcast nature that some blogs can take on (here are my views, read them and be impressed) when the blogger doesn’t respond in the comments 3) the unrepresentative nature of the blogs, I’m not sure if there’s 80 or 280 politically inclined blogs hereabouts but I’m guess that 70% are left leaning with only half that being centre or centre right (some of the best writing is in those left leaning blogs for sure but they’re not talking to the majority of the population so much as talking amongst themselves) and there is next to no cross linking between that blog divide 4) the lack of cross blog engagement, unlike with a board such a p.ie where people have roughly the same posting rights on someone else’s blog that’s not the case and I’ve notice a reticence to engage with (or sometimes to even allow comments) from a dissenting opinion. And in this small an environment that’s simply providing for more of the small talking to yourself problem I mentioned earlier. 5) a lot of irish politics is about the personal and the local and people are still not quite there yet when it comes to the larger picture stuff that some bloggers are posting about.

  • Mack

    You would kind of expect that to some degree. Socialism is inherently political (i.e. it has to operate through the political sphere as it’s goals require the limitation or replacement of free enterprise) where as capitalism is much less political. In that people with an interest in business can start their own (rather than join a party of social movement) and they tend to discuss that on business related blogs – which may well involve having the odd pop at government / regulation etc. And if you look at communities other than blogs – Ask About Money is almost certainly implicitly centre-right, ThePropertyPin despite being founded by socialists has long had more of right-wing slant in it’s analysis.

    There is also a potential differential in scale. Of all the economics related blogs, the centre-right Irish Economy is also by far the biggest & busiest (with the possible exception of Ask About Money). And there is always the possibility of overlooking more mainstream blogs like those run by David McWilliams and Eddie Hobbs (I think both of those are right of centre, Hobbs more so than McWilliams), McWilliams’ blog is probably the most active Irish blog full stop.

  • The other reason is that blogs tended to work better for those in opposition and let’s face it much of the Irish left sees itself as a permanent opposition no matter who gets elected.

  • Mack
  • Lionel Hutz

    On a different note, is it just me or has the traffic on this site got a bit slower.

    Maybe political life in the North has gotten a bit slower in general. Personally, whilst I have never been so excercised as to actually go through with starting a blog, i have always liked to comment on them. Recently however, very little actually makes me want to engage

  • Mack

    Meant to cut and paste this one in too –


    (there is a whole list awaiting moderation if this appears now, on it’s own!).

  • One way of addressing the essential topic here is to assume WoOA! (“William of Ockham applies”: the simplest explanation is usually the right one”).

    Instance: one summer I was marooned in the US West and mid-West. Six weeks in motels, often without broadband, and reliant on US Today and CNN: neither of which are sound on cricket scores. In that time I observed only one UK/Ireland based story, warningly and inevitably introduced using the word “quaint” (it was somehow about Thomas Hardy).

    Once back in civilisation I realised how little I had missed. We, both sides of the narrow water, are a small society. We do not greatly trouble the nature of things. And, increasingly, that is how we like it.

    The ultra-liberals are dismantling our health, education and transport services, flogging off the post office and any assets not screwed down, emptying the prisons, salami-slicing the BBC, handing C5 over to a porn-merchant, before turning a “mind” (for want of a better term) to the police and defence forces. Even the Mail and the Telegraph are beginning to wonder.

    And how are the destructors getting away with it? WoOA: bread and circuses.

    We recently spent a full week obsessing on a lone gun-man. The Big Deal of the last while has been a football competition, and its associated retail opportunities.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, Dewi frets about the subsidies to London commuters, while the capital grinds to a halt and the Victoria Line collapses daily.. Four hours to cross to “sarf o’ the rivva” on Saturday evening; but the Northern Line to Battersea is written out of the plans. Still, Boris gets his £168 million “cycle superhighways” (i.e. lots of Tory-blue asphalt), £100+ million boneshaker cycles-for-hire, and the Borismaster buses at £1.6 million apiece. That’s Tory economics, chaps.

    In a culture of half-truths and non-truths, we accept there is a major economic crisis (there isn’t: there’s been a banking and credit crisis). We are invited to feel sorry for those accused of rape: after all 9% of prosecutions are misguided (which means 91% are not, while rape is a remarkably unprosecuted crime, so let’s not feel too sorry about the victims). We are told that removing speed cameras is a “good thing” while the cost of clearing up a road death is only about £1.4 million — each. But … hey! … gotta keep Mondeo man on side, what?

    Which is why I blog about historical perspectives.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Thee problem with Blogs is that they are often the preserve of “Anoraks” or “Partisans” or “Fanatics”.
    In the great scheme of things people are prolly more interested in the latest Tom Cruise movie than the nuances in a speech by a candidate for the Unionist leadership.
    It is of course a worthy aim of the Media to open up public debate……but the realistic outcome for wishy washy liberals like myself is that ……we love “Democracy” and detest “Populism” (the name we give to the kinda democracy we dont like)……capital punishment, leaving Europe, castrating sex offenders and giving Bruce Forsyth a kinghthood.
    The point where the fanatics take over the asylum of a political Blog..is the point where the Blog fails…..like when the general public discover the coolest bar in town and it is no longer cool again.
    My observation is that a Blog gets the reputaion of being “god” and then suffers from being “hit” by poor quality posts.

    Mr Hutz asks “has the traffic on this site” got slower. No doubt there are statistics which can give a definitive answer.
    Certainly we all have our favourite subjects and subjects we wont touch with John Taylors 40ft pole.
    Some new threads might induce a “here he goes again” feeling which is a bit of a turn off. Certainly the small number of comments shown as follow ups to certain threads suggests a level of apathy in a certain subjects.

    Ultimately I return to paraphrasing Peter Spencer, my favourite journalist that journalists have too much “self importance”. The same might be said of some Blogs. That they got carried away with “we are all journalists now” and over-estimated their contribution by giving each other awards.

  • stewart1

    Sites like Politics.ie cater for so much more than plain politics. There is certainly a lot more to read on most forums than on normal blogs. Blogs have gone stale in my opinion and people have moved on to the Forum format were you can discuss Politics, world issues, sport, entertainment, environment etc.. all in the one place. In my opinion, slugger and other blogs like it have become tiresome and dated with the same one dimensional threads by posters simply trying to get one over on the ‘other side’.

    Yes, that happens in forums as well, but everyone is free to open topics for discussion, so its a lot more democratic way of operating than a blog. Twitter is also excellent for searching topics etc.. and a great place to find links to interesting stuff.

  • Mick Fealty


    Chris Dillow’s strapline may be relevant here: “An extremist, not a fanatic”…

    Thanks for the list Mack… I’ll dip into that when I’m doing the write up… Anyone with an up-to-date list of NI Pol Blogs?

  • “Quality and Quantity cannot co-exist.”

    I feel that is especially true of a one person blog, blogging also takes up a great deal of time and most have to earn a living, and have other things to do in life, thus posts become rushed, thus often poor. After all, i doubt most newspaper readers would wish to read even the best of columnists every single day. Once a week is enough for most of us.

    Take slugger, it has for some, moved from a one man blog to a paid job, fine if you can get it but most cannot, or have no wish to put their content under someone elses hammer.

    Small time Political blogging is very individualistic and subjective, unless it compromises on this I fear it will wither somewhat. Not die, but wither, which is a shame as there are many folk blogging who have at least a good piece in them once a week, The best way forward would be for bloggers who were on a similar political tac to amalgamate and jointly produce a single blog and share the load. Or better still exact opposites join in a single blog, challenging to say the least.

    Whether this will happen, I am doubtful, but if it does not, I feel there will be even less political blogs next year. As to total politics beauty contest, no self respecting republican or left blogger should take part in it, not least because Dale demands ten nominations from each participant, now why would he do that? 😉

    As to twitter, i fail to see any link between it and blogging beyond both being a fad for some people.


  • Mack


    Is another right of centre blog (well Michael Hennigan’s well researched articles). No feed unfortunately, but Google reader can create one for you..

  • Small time Political blogging is very individualistic and subjective, unless it compromises on this I fear it will wither somewhat. Not die, but wither, which is a shame as there are many folk blogging who have at least a good piece in them once a week, The best way forward would be for bloggers who were on a similar political tac to amalgamate and jointly produce a single blog and share the load.

    There is a lot of truth in this. Ever since exam-time I have found it difficult to get into the groove again on my own blog. I recently started a group blog (http://thegreatunrest.wordpress.com) with a few friends and having co-contributors takes away most of the pressure to produce quantity and (hopefully) will help with quality. For more NI-centric stuff though I’ll continue to update http://roevalleysocialist.blogspot.com/

  • Maybe the initial explosion, if it happened, was on account of the novelty of the medium. Both bloggers and commenters liked the feeling of what happens when they published a comment or a post. After growing up with newspapers and broadcast media that neither talked back or allowed for an immediate response, the interactivity of the medium, and its immediacy (if that is not a contradiction in terms) were gratifying.

    At that stage, when it’s all very new and exciting, political affiliation is less important than the fact that you’re interacting with other people at a level of detail and sophistication that was previously impossible.

    But after a while, you have the more instantaneous gratification of Twitter and Facebook other stuff, and reading and commenting on a blog seems too much of a chore: why spend half an hour trying to give your own variation on a widely held opinion when you can just retweet someone else’s words or ‘Like’ them? Also, why am I talking to all these people with whom I am never going to agree in a million years?

    Why is the scene so dull in Ireland? For starters, parliamentary politics is dominated by two centre-right parties who claim to be ‘pragmatists’, meaning they live and breathe neo-liberal orthodoxy, albeit with a nationalist coating. And then you have a centre-left party whose purpose in life seems to be to sit slightly to the left of the centre-right parties. There is none of the binary antagonism between Republicans and Democrats or Labour and Tories that you get in the US and UK. What, given this scenario, is there to argue about? The Civil War? When you have controversies like NAMA, there is no ideological cleavage: everyone in FF, FG and the Labour Party would have adopted policies similar in effect. The differences are technical rather than political. The outcome is just a load of people spectating on the machinations of politicians and their parties. Boring.

    I also think that Irish people who went to school in the salad days of the Celtic Tiger were brainwashed and are not inclined to think about politics beyond the ‘pragmatic’ (i.e. neoliberal) framework sustained by the main political parties and most of the media, and when they do, it’s only to retweet this or to give that a thumbs up. Mack says that capitalism is less political than socialism: I disagree – it is capitalism that imposes limits on what is deemed politically sensible, and it is difficult, if the thought ever occurs to them, for many people to try to think in a way that transcends those limits. I suppose keeping a blog, in so far as it allows for dialogue and trying out your own ideas, at least presents a possibility of doing so. But that is very much a minority concern.

  • Danny

    What is with that Gombeen Nation guy, he seems like a left wing version of Ross o’Carroll Kelly. D4 prejudice, working class politics and upbringing. It is quiet strange.

  • Years gone, there was the story of the Brit writer attending the US SF convention. He was told by his American host, forcibly:

    Here we are, trying to get off the planet. There you are, unable to get off your island.

    Gosh: a whole island! There’s scope for exploration!

    Which is why, after commenting on the odd pub (McConville’s should be in the same breath as the Crown Liquor), the desolation that is Tin Town after 5:30 pm; and the same old, same old, I have nothing more to say about Portadown. Ditto the railway service and the occasional murder in Castlerock. Even the neglect of the urban environment and the same old, same old in ‘Derry. Should I be forced to rave, endlessly, about the water levels on Lough Erne? Or the trees on the Gilford road? Or why the electors of the west of the Province (both sides of that damned border) are such a cussed lot?

    So, what is this parochial thing called NI bloggery, any how? Is it merely Belfasters getting their rocks on at each others’ expense?

  • Paddy Hoey

    With some notable exceptions, like Slugger, has the political blogosphere in either Britain or Ireland lived up to either its own hype or that of communications academics?
    I would genuinely like some opinions in this matter to help my research.
    Firstly, Is it fair to refute utterly any claims to the transformation of the political landscape in Westminster by its associated blogotariat?
    Guido, for instance, breaks stories but there is precious little debate there, just Tory wonks and assorted Daily Mail vagabonds calling Brown or whoever ‘knob jockeys’. It’s hardly the rational cut and thrust of political debate Habermas et al may subscribe to as an essential element of an effective polity.
    The Westminster blogosphere is a homogeneous mish mash of beige irrelevance produced by any of the myriad think tanks. Why has there not been a similar, if somewhat smaller explosion around the political institutions in Ireland?
    Getting back to the wider Irish blogosphere, is there a new realignment or consolidation of this new media sphere around trusted elite bloggers? Are we now content with CLR, Splints, Dublin Opinion, et al and associated Sluggers to provide an alternative to MSM?
    For my own project, could I also solicit opinions to why we haven’t seen a wider take up of the blogosphere as a channel of communication for Republicans, given its long history of activist journalism and the recent success of The Blanket between 2001-2008?
    And n one final point, Guido said that podcasting was dead and video was the frontier for successful blogging – why has multi-media failed to take off in the Irish blogosphere?
    Sorry for all the questions, but I would like some opinions.

  • Mick Fealty

    It is always slower in the summer months… I’d say comment is slower, but there is a greater variety of commenters… and the quality if anything has generally got slightly better…

  • Mick Fealty

    In early days of Slugger, I used to go out of my way to go to events which tried to peel back the hype on the blog phenomenon. This evening, I remembered this gig from late 2004 at the Adam Smith Institute.

    Reading it back (http://url.ie/6ymi), at the time, I was most struck by Andy Starr from Spiked. And to be honest, it is the insight from that evening which holds the most resonance for me in the context of today’s debate:

    He saw a widespread desire on the part of the media to see some generic significance in blogs per se. But he asked, “why can’t we just wait for blogs to establish their own significance as websites?”

    He cautioned against the flash mob mentality and argued new media techniques had led to a general vacuity and lack of content in some ideologically led pressure groups; not least, the anti globalisation movement.

    He also suggested that sharing thoughts in public, meant a loss of private time in which to think through problems and figure out genuine solutions: “Sometimes it’s better not to answer the mobile, and to sit down and read yesterday’s news rather than the latest news from five minutes ago.”

  • Mack
  • EWI

    But seriously, am I missing something here? There are some great blogs starting up, but they aren’t necessarily on politics…

    I think Twitter has absorbed a lot of the impulse to comment. As for the rest… I suspect a lot of people now despair of politics as being completely unaccountable and untrustworthy, so why bother? (shooting the spin-doctors, lobbyists and PR people would a good start to solving that one, I think).

  • I doubt that the blogosphere has had much impact on Westminster politics. At most, it’s another forum for leaking scandal and gossip that the tabloids usually would, but it’s not changing anything by itself.

    As for Ireland, I suspect very strongly that, in political terms, p.ie, slugger and boards.ie leave any of the political opinion blogs in the dust. I’m not so sure there has been a consolidation around what you term elite blogs for alternative comment. There continue to be a fair number of new blogs coming out. One area that seems to be growing is blogs that look at politics with an historical perspective/twist. Not really a surprise given the importance of history in cultural life here generally.

    I’m not sure who you mean by republicans, whether you mean the provisionals or their offshoots or both. I suspect that the provos with the inclination to blog are busy with party work; as for the dissidents, I think that the average dissident is more interested in bebo than in blogging. MacIntyre’s blog is an interesting case in point. Basically, the previous venture, as he acknowledged, fed off a set of circumstances regarding the provisionals that have passed now with the executive secure, policing etc. I think there is less holding those people together, and that some of them never actually had much to say that wasn’t about the provisionals. MacIntyre’s comment zone is very active, but it seems to be the same half dozen people as far as I can tell, who know each other from the real world too.

    Not sure what your point about video v podcasting is, but there is a lot of seriously weird stuff about the north on Youtube, on people’s own channels.