It’s petty settling these old scores incognito Chris

My column on the Chris Andrews Twittergate fiasco from today’s (Mon August 13th 2012) Evening Herald

Anonymous Tweets

I am not exactly sure how I feel about Chris Andrews today. I have known him personally for over 25 years. We are near contemporaries. I have campaigned alongside him and, on a couple of occasions, for him. He managed to so something I repeatedly failed to do: to get elected.

In his case that meant serving as a Dublin City Councillor and a TD for the Dublin South East constituency. His defeat in the great Fianna Fáil wipeout of February 2011 was not a reflection on his work as a local representative.

He came closer than many to hanging on in a constituency that has not be traditional FF territory. His work rate meant that the tide which engulfed him was not nearly as severe as that which washed away so many others.

For these reasons I feel sorry to see him exit politics.

But there is another side too. Like many of his friends and supporters I am deeply angered by the report in yesterday’s Sunday Independent of his antics in setting up a fake twitter account to attack Fianna Fáil.

This anger is twofold. It is an anger at his actions and his attempts to glorify them by presenting himself now as some victim, but it is also an anger at his betrayal of the trust of supporters and colleagues, like me.

No matter how much he may seek to convince himself otherwise, Chris is no victim.

He is no principled dissenter or critic being silenced out by an intolerant leadership. His actions were petty and self serving. He hid behind a fake account (@brianfornerFF) and sniped at perceived political rivals in the hope of bringing them down and advancing himself.

I engaged with his fake persona on Twitter a few times, mistakenly believing it what that of a disillusioned young member. After a few exchanges I quickly realised that it was nothing of the sort, though I never suspected it was Chris.

There was nothing noble or admirable in his comments, Most were just bitchy and sneering rants at colleagues. The only “political” thread in his exchanges with me was his expressed disdain for political dynasties, a little ironic now given the source.

The comical point in all of this is that the real Chris Andrews and I were exchanging messages on twitter at the same time as the fake tweets.

I, like others, had become an audiences for Chris’s one man performance of his own “Philadelphia Here I Come”. Unlike Friel’s “Gar Public” and “Gar Private” his were not the inner and outer voices of the same person, one expanding upon and setting the context for the utterances of the other.

Quite the opposite. While “official Chris” publicly expressed support and praise for the party “Continuity Chris” was lashing out at those seeking to reform and rebuild. He did occasionally take pot shots at the leadership and senior figures, but his targets were mainly local.

It was all a game, and a pointless one at that.

There was no great point of principle at stake here. His attacks and indeed his departure was not about the party’s stand on the Fiscal Treaty Referendum, no more than it was about its support of Gay marriage or a reformed Seanad.

This was about high politics or the future, it was about low politics and the past. It was about settling old scores and doing it out of sight, hidden behind a screen.

It was about the worst of the old politics, which makes his parting shot, his suggestion that dissent and criticism is not tolerated in FF, all the more galling.

Because of his age, his location and indeed his background Chris was uniquely placed to play a part in crafting and determining whatever future Fianna Fáil may have. The pity is that he rejected that opportunity – it did not reject him. This is what makes me both sad and angry.

BAI Report Does Not Close the File on that Bogus Tweet

Áras12 Candidates McGuinness and Gallagher

Besides our Fianna Fáil backgrounds, Sean Gallagher and I have something else in common: an errant tweet has contributed to us both losing out on a job.

In my case it partly caused me to lose a job I already held. I was Willie O’Dea’s adviser and programme manager when Dan Boyle sent his infamous tweet.

Its claim that there would: “Probably be a few chapters in this story yet” proved baseless, nonetheless 24 hours later the Minister had resigned and yours truly was clearing out his desk. C’est la vie. The tweet only brought the inevitable forward by twelve months.

In Sean’s case the broadcast of a bogus tweet during the Frontline Presidential Debate played a major play in derailing his campaign and denying him the job he wanted.

Yesterday the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland gave its verdict on his complaint against RTE, The Frontline and The Pat Kenny Show.

It was a fairly damning judgement. The BAI found that Sean Gallagher had been treated “unfairly” on three counts.

One: by the broadcast of the initial bogus tweet from an account that purported to be from the official Martin McGuinness for President campaign.

Two: by the failure of the Frontline to tell the audience of the subsequent tweet from the official McGuinness campaign denying that it had issued the bogus one.

Three: by the continuing failure of the Today with Pat Kenny radio show the next morning to properly clarify the status and background of the two tweets.

Given that it found that a programme that was intended as a Presidential Debate was unfair to one particular candidate, it was amazing to see the BAI go on to say that no further investigation or inquiry is required as the complaint “was not of such a serious nature as to warrant an investigation or public hearings”.

It is not as if this might have affected the outcome of an election or anything….. oh, hang on a minute…. Yes, it might.

No one can definitively state whether the tweetgate affair altered the outcome, but we do know that Sean Gallagher was the poll leader before the debate and he wasn’t a few days later. We also know that tallies of the postal votes – ie those votes cast and returned to the presiding officers before the Frontline debate – showed Gallagher topping the poll.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that viewers watching the Frontline debate might have switched from Gallagher to Michael D Higgins even if the tweet had never been mentioned.

All this is in the realms of speculation. What is not speculation however it that someone sent that tweet to undermine the front runner and affect the race.

So, yes, this matter does require further investigation.

The BAI has determined that Mr Gallagher was treated unfairly in how the tweet was handled. RTE’s Director General made a sincere and genuine apology and the RTE Authority is to examine the BAI’s finding.

This is all right and proper. But RTE’s actions are only part of the case.

Like others watching the campaign on the internet I was not aware of the difference between the real and fake McGuinness for President twitter accounts until the controversy broke that night.

The confusion was easy as, according to some Social Media watchers, both twitter accounts were created on the same day. Indeed, as part of its own defence, RTE argued that many other journalists were similarly confused and had taken the first bogus tweet as genuine. (A defence rejected by the BAI)

The question remains: who was responsible for sending out the tweet? Are we going to tolerate a situation where an election outcome can potentially be so easily influenced by one person or group of people acting in the shadows?

We have seen thousands of people protest on the streets of Moscow regarding accusations that Putin rigged their Presidential election, are we not to try and look a bit deeper into this case?

Isn’t the integrity of our democratic process worth a bit more effort?