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Irish election: The weird and wonderful rise of online campaign videos

Father Joe McGrath Image copyright Oynx_Okami/You Tube
Image caption Father Joe McGrath stars in a campaign video for independent candidate James Morgan in the Republic of Ireland general election

Imagine the scene - a man is peering, almost hidden, from among the heavy thicket of branches.

"The fall upon the bloom, will always flower in spring," he wistfully recites, like William Wordsworth via David Attenborough. "But, he doesn't need your number one."

It sounds like a crazed fever dream or maybe something out of a Terry Gilliam movie, but it's comes from the wonderful world of online campaign videos for the Republic of Ireland's general election.

The election has produced a bumper crop of bizarre clips aimed at pushing candidates all the way into the Irish parliament by way of a screaming viral hit.

Irish people will go to the polls this week after a whirlwind campaign period following Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny's announcement of the election at the beginning of February.

Since then the internet has been flooded with videos featuring everything from musical numbers to Hollywood spoofs, with candidates keen to fight the election battle online as much as on the doorsteps.

The clip described above stars Father Joe McGrath, who cryptically urges the people of County Longford to vote for independent candidate James Morgan.

Image copyright Martin Heydon/You Tube
Image caption 'Doc Brown' drops into County Kildare to help out Fine Gael TD Martin Heydon

The video is an quirky slice of viral-ready electioneering: Fr McGrath dances, he references Ancient Greeks and that's all before he's presented amongst the bushes.

Another example is from Fine Gael parliamentary member Martin Heydon, whose special effects extravaganza makes Father Joe's effort look like something out of the silent era.

The County Kildare candidate's three-minute promo is a full-blown Back to the Future parody, with Mr Heydon getting accosted by 'Doc Brown' who arrives in a DeLorean.

"Quick Marty, you've got to come with me," he cries. "The future of Kildare South and the country depends on it."

Cinematic

In this alternative timeline, it isn't Biff Tannen and his sports almanac threatening the future but the possibility Mr Heydon won't be re-elected.

Meanwhile, Doc Brown is less concerned with getting plutonium to fuel the DeLorean's flux capacitor than getting a ring road built so he can get up to 88mph.

Mr Heydon's blockbuster style clip isn't the only cinematic effort filmed for the election.

Social Democrat candidate Gary Gannon's video, for example, flexes some directorial muscle by featuring an unbroken long take through the streets of Dublin.

Image copyright Gary Gannon/You Tube
Image caption Social Democratic candidate Gary Gannon's video is a three-minute unbroken shot

Other efforts, however, are considerably more rough and ready though no less creative.

Some TDs, such as independent candidates Richard O'Donoghue and Michael Healy-Rae, have looked to hit the right notes with musical numbers.

This glut of social media electioneering is a "new phenomenon that has emerged in the digital age", said Dr Jane Suiter, a senior lecturer on politics and media at Dublin City University.

Unique

"Looking at the last election in 2011, that was expected to be the social media election," she said. "But, it was still very much about knocking on doors.

"By-elections since then have seen much more social media being used, and more again now."

According to Dr Suiter, Ireland has been heavily influenced by the political advertisements freely shown on US television - but there are elements that makes these clips unique to the Republic.

"These videos make more sense here than in the UK because of the single transferable vote election system.

Image copyright Nidge O'Sullivan/You Tube
Image caption Independent candidate Michael 'Pixie' O'Gorman created a time-lapse video of a sand-art installation

"There are candidates from the same party campaigning for seats, whereas in the UK it's only a few candidates and there are more safe seats.

"Here, it's different because there's a much more crowded field of candidates, who have to stand out more to be noticed.

"These videos tend to focus on the achievements of candidates rather than the party, and what they've delivered or will deliver locally."

Another factor, said Dr Suiter, is last year's marriage referendum in the Republic of Ireland that saw both sides heavily use online campaigning and social media to promote their message.

Even the weather has played its part in the rise of the wacky political video.

"It's harder to get people to go out canvassing in February," said Dr Suiter. "People have to be more creative to get their message out there."

Image copyright Oynx_Okami/You Tube
Image caption Dr Jane Suiter says that online campaign videos, such as Father Joe McGrath's, will become more common

This is a reality that looks certain to intensify in future elections.

"Research shows that it's coming up to 40% to 50% of young people getting most of their news from their phone and social media," she said.

"Millennials are digital natives. The kids who are 12, 13, 14 will be the candidates soon enough and that's where they live, online.

"So it's hard to escape the fact that this will become more common," she said. "There's no going back to the place where it was all about feet on the ground."

Regardless of how people vote on 27 February, the Father Joes, County Kildare 'Doc Browns' and politically themed country tunes look set to be a permanent feature of Ireland's political landscape.

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