Social issues dominate Facebook Election Special

Monday 22 February 2016 15.23
The discussion focused on topics that have not featured much in other election coverage
The discussion focused on topics that have not featured much in other election coverage

Mental health, education and repealing the Eighth Amendment dominated an Election Special at Facebook’s international headquarters in Dublin, which was broadcast on RTÉ2.

Keelin Shanley was joined by seven politicians for the live audience discussion, with viewers submitting questions for the debate via Facebook and Twitter.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Labour Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, Independent Senator Averil Power and People Before Profit’s Adrienne Wallace took part in the discussion.

The discussion concentrated on key issues that have not featured much in other election coverage.

These topics included mental health, repealing the Eighth Amendment, jobs and education.

On the issue of mental health, one audience member, Cat O Broin, described how her brother took his own life just six weeks ago after a lengthy battle with mental illness.

Ms O Broin said her family battled with the health services to learn more about his condition, but were prevented by patient confidentiality issues.

"My brother's confidentiality was placed above his life," she said.

Mr Varadkar said the issue of patient confidentiality was particularly difficult. 

"If the patient is a child, of course the family is fully involved," he said. "But if they’re an adult, just like a cardiology patient, just like a cancer patient, just like a patient with infectious disease, they are entitled to say they don’t want to have their family involved."

Leo Varadkar on adult confidentiality in health services

Speaking about Fianna Fáil's period in government, Timmy Dooley conceded his party's plan on mental health was not initiated in the way it should have been. 

Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin agreed it was not sustainable that children were still in adult psychiatric wards. 

On the issue of third-level education, AAA-PBP candidate Adrienne Wallace said 99% of second-level students in Dublin 6 were attending third-level education compared to 15% of people in Dublin 17.

"I blame fees massively for that," Ms Wallace said.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said third level fees need to be abolished.

"I think if we’re serious about a knowledge economy, if we’re serious about innovation, if we’re serious about quality and about giving our young people the best chance we can, then we need to remove those fees," she said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said big corporations like Facebook and Google should help pay for third-level education by paying the corporate tax rate of 12.5%.

"One of the ways we could raise the money is to put it into education because these companies would benefit from graduates coming from high quality colleges," he said.

On the issue of repealing the Eighth Amendment, Mr Ó Ríordáin said it is only when Labour is in government that these types of issues are addressed.

“Doctors have to wait until the health of the mother deteriorates to such a degree that her health is at risk," he said. "That’s an impossible situation to stand over."

Mr Varadkar said the Government’s proposal to hold a people’s convention on the issue was “not a cop-out”.

“Most people in Ireland are in the middle on this issue and they want to talk it through and they want to know what they are voting for,” he said.

Ms McDonald said, "I think it is entirely wrong to create the fiction that we are looking for some kind of free for all.

"In most cases, becoming pregnant is a matter of the utmost profound joy and fulfilment for women and for their partners.

"But there are circumstances in which that is not the case and we need to deal with those. I think Irish women deserve nothing less than that."

Economy, health most talked-discussed Facebook election topics

The economy and health are now the most-discussed election topics on Facebook, according to new data from the social media site.

Election discussion on Facebook has more than trebled over the last month, with an average of 4,000 interactions taking place on the social media site every day.

Facebook released the data ahead of the live Election Special.

According to the latest Facebook data, the economy is now neck and neck with health, which was the most popular topic two weeks ago.

These two topics are far ahead of all others, suggesting they are the defining election-related issues for voters.

Fine Gael has been particularly active in pushing the economy, with the majority of the content they share related to their economic record in Government and job creation. 

This approach seems to have paid off - Fine Gael’s Facebook page followers have increased from 13,000 to 18,000.

And Taoiseach Enda Kenny continues to be the most discussed of the political party leaders. 

He has been mentioned more times than the second and third most-discussed leaders - Tánaiste Joan Burton and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams - combined. 

Since 1 November last year, there have now been 4.7 million election-related interactions on Facebook.

Elizabeth Linder, one of Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialists, said the site is expected to see a high level of election discussion for the remainder of the campaign.

"With less than a week to go until polling day, we’re seeing how the General Election is impacting on the level of discussion on Facebook," she said.

"High profile discussions such as the leaders’ debates have also proven to be a strong area of discussion amongst people on Facebook and we expect this will be further reflected during the course of the Election Special."