Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Twitter Prayer

The Catholic Church has decided to get a piece of the new media action according to the BBC, with Cardinal Seán Brady telling a congregation in Mayo on Sunday: "Make someone the gift of a prayer through text, twitter or e-mail every day."

He also seems to get a sense of what Facebook is all about, adding that people should consider setting up prayer groups using modern communications.

However, in a somewhat more bizarre turn, Cardinal Brady, who was speaking at a centenary celebration of the life of Fr Patrick Peyton, said that 'the Rosary priest' as Fr Peyton was known had "a great gift" for communication and would have been "big into texting and Twitter" if that had been available in his time. Hmm, a bit Father Ted-esque. Nonetheless, it's good to see the Church look at alternatives to reach out to people.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Fine Gael European Street Party in Cork

Last Saturday I was strolling through Cork when I happened upon some street entertainment- there was children's face painting, live music, a big net full of balloons and entertainers. I then spotted a number of young people sporting blue jackets handing out pens and other paraphernalia on behalf of Fine Gael.

At first I thought that Fine Gael was simply making the most of an event that had been organised by the council or some other organisation, but then I realised that it was actually Fine Gael who had put it together. After a while and with a small crowd of people milling around and listening to the music while chatting to party activists, Fine Gael's Ireland South MEP Colm Burke stood on a box and made a brief speech. Then the balloons were released and the music continued. Throughout the rest of the day I spotted a number of people walking around with 'Vote Burke 1' stickers on their jackets and children with their faces painted.

Regardless of what party people in the south support, it would be hard to deny that this was an interesting and fun way of engaging with voters. Ok, maybe it had nothing to do with policies or principles, but when there's plenty of talk about these things elsewhere, is it any harm to add a bit of colour here and there? Fine Gael used this event to convey the idea that they have a lighter side during dark economic times and their candidate dancing in the street to live music was a change from the stereotypical staid pre-election stunt.

In the north, sometimes I think we can get caught up in the political process to the extent that many voters get turned off, particularly by dull rhetoric and canvassers going through the motions. Particularly in European elections there is a need to engage effectively with voters as many have more interesting things to attract their attention.

Whether Fine Gael, and particularly Colm Burke, do well remains to be seen. I don't know specifically what Burke stands for but I know his name, I know he has young people canvassing support for him and I know he's game for a bit of craic. I also know that I've now blogged about him and posted a video on YouTube. If people who are entitled to vote in Cork have had a similar experience, then surely that a good thing for him and his party heading into an election.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Mick Fealty to run for Libertas?

Firstly, no- he's not.

However, texts were bouncing around this evening suggesting that Northern Ireland's premier blogger Mick Fealty was going to stand for election as a candidate on behalf of Declan Ganley's anti-EU party Libertas in the forthcoming European elections.

This all seemed a bit strange. Then I remembered seeing a tweet from Mick earlier on in the day which mentioned Libertas, so I logged on to Twitter and sure enough there was said tweet from Mick which read: "RT @declanganley Following launch of our Dublin candidate full Libertas Ireland Team, Simons - Dublin, O'Malley East and myself North West"

Whoever it was that spotted this tweet and thought it meant Mick had agreed for his name to go on the Libertas ticket obviously didn't realise the 'RT' meant that Mick was actually just retweeting a previous tweet from Ganley. It's a simple enough mistake to make, but it does show how new media are playing an increasingly prolific role in politics and communication- all of a sudden we could have had a situation on our hands where half of the country thought that Mr Slugger O'Toole was about to throw his hat into the ring in a constituency which covers much of the north and west of Ireland! Suffice to say, I texted back to explain the situation.

Gone are the traditional gatekeepers and cross-checkers. Rumours and news now spread like wildfire, whether accurate or not. And while this example illustrates the power of the internet and social networks in a very simple way, it also acts as a reminder that the net cannot simply be ignored by organisations. Those involved in reputation management need to take full account of the internet, both in terms of the opportunities and threats that it presents. Gone are the days when the dissemination of inaccurate information could be stemmed by placing a sharp telephone call with an editor.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Tax Day Tea Party: Republicans get in on the New Media Act

Much of the talk around the American presidential election centred on the Obama campaign's ability to harness the power of the internet to activate local supporters on the ground across the country.

Probably still reeling from their defeats on Pennsyvania Avenue and in Congress, the Republicans have been steadily growing their online engagement- already GOP politicians on Twitter outnumber their Democratic counterparts significantly. And now supporters of the Republicans have used the net to organise and publicise a series of protests across the USA today under the 'Tax Day Tea Party' banner.

The protests are pitched against Barack Obama's big-spending cash stimulus programme and coincide with the deadline for filing federal income tax returns.

Opponents say that it is merely an astroturfing exercise. Nonetheless, the campaign is trending well on Twitter, which suggests that it's at the very least garnering interest if not support. Whether this interest can be converted into action on the streets, as the Obama campaign so dramatically succeeded in achieving last year, will become clearer as the day progresses.

Cynical or not, the Tax Day Tea Party shows how major players are increasingly seeing digital communication as a key component of political activity.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Bruno Movie Trailer Now Available

The trailer for the forthcoming Bruno film has gone online within the past few days. The film, by Ali G and Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen, is due for release this summer.

You can check the trailer out on the Empire site here.

Cue lots more disgruntled Americans (and perhaps Austrians) complaining!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Councillor Co-Option Consultation

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has launched a consultation to gauge people's views on the options available for replacing existing councillors who wish to leave office.

The Minister said: "Under the Review of Public Administration, the Executive has proposed severance arrangements as a way of recognising the contribution long serving councillors who choose to stand down, have made to their local area and to Northern Ireland as a whole.

"The consultation document puts forward a number of options for possible severance arrangements, including the calculation of the amount of money that could be paid to an individual councillor, the timing of any scheme and how the associated costs should be met.

"Consultation on severance arrangements for district councillors is one of the preliminary steps for the reorganisation of local government in 2011. Local government plays an important part in the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland and I would encourage people to take part in this consultation."

One of the schemes proposed could see councillors getting up to £36,000 to leave office if they've accrued 36 years' service at £1,000 a year. Other options put a limit at £25,000 and £20,000 respectively.

The consultation also poses the question of whether any such scheme should be introduced in January next year to enable co-opted councillors to get a year's experience before the new supercouncils are introduced in 2011, whether retiring councillors should be allowed to stand down in January 2011 (which would not facilitate co-options or by-elections) or whether the option of a pay-off should be offered in the mouth of the 2011 elections.

Other aspects look at whether councillors who are MLAs, MPs, Members of the House of Lords and MEPs should be deemed ineligible for severance; whether next of kin should receive a severance award if a councillor who applied dies before it is made; whether councillors who receive severance but then return to local government should be required to repay it in full; and whether central or local government should meet the costs of any scheme.

Talk of this has been doing the rounds for some time. Until recently, it was thought there would have been a window of opportunity perhaps between next month and September. However, as time dragged on, it was clear that this wasn't going to be the case. I heard some people suggesting that there would be no package, well at least until 2011, but the potential to see a raft of new councillors arrive on the scene within the next year now seems possible.

The closing date for the consultation is 31 May.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Fixing up Donegall Place and Castle Place

I was delighted to see that plans have been unveiled to overhaul the main thoroughfare through Belfast, as I called for in November. The plans won't quite see Donegall Place blocked-off to traffic, but the road will be reduced to only permitting buses to travel one-way.

The work is due to start in May 2009, with completion by September 2010.

Unveiling the designs, Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said:

“Change is coming to Belfast. Positive change, change for the better for Donegall Place and Castle Place.

“My Department is investing £7million to make this change happen. This money will be spent on new paving and new lighting to make these streets more accessible for pedestrians and to secure much needed jobs in the construction sector.”

“When the first stage of this work is completed next year we will have wider pavements and partial pedestrianisation with buses running only in one direction. This will make Donegall Place and Castle Place a safer more attractive environment for shoppers, visitors and those who work in the city centre.

“The new streetscape should also attract further investment in retail once the market picks up and enhance those businesses currently trading in the area. The design of the new streetscape will respect the historic fabric of these streets.”

“The scheme will finally be completed when the city centre transport plan is fully implemented. At that point Donegall Place will be fully pedestrianised. We are moving forward in the right direction making sure that we get the balance right between meeting the needs of pedestrians and ensuring the smooth running of public transport.

“The construction works will be carried out in full consultation with local businesses in the streets to be improved. I would ask city centre stakeholders and the public to bear with us as the end result will be worthwhile.

“Previous completed paving works, which have been dug up by utility companies, has hampered the construction programme of late. I want to ensure a better effort to coordinate their activities within the existing roads legislation and construction programme going forward.

"I have written to my ministerial colleague Conor Murphy, who has responsibility for roads, and asked him to consider bringing in stiffer penalties. This will help guarantee compliance in future developments by all utility companies.”

“Phase one of the 'Belfast: Streets Ahead' programme will end when the streetscape is in place in 2010. It will have transformed 13 streets in Belfast`s main shopping area, representing a total investment of £28million.

"The legacy of this investment will be a vibrant shopping area we can all be proud of. It will be safer, cleaner, more attractive, more accessible and among the best of our competitor regional European cities."
A website has been set up for the project here.

Welcome to the 21st century!