Sinn Féin is shown in new election spending returns to have spent less on social media advertising than its traditional rivals.
Despite controversy over the management of the party’s social media accounts from outside of Ireland, the Standards in Public Offices Commission (Sipo) has been told of comparatively low digital spending by the party.
Sinn Féin achieved a huge electoral breakthrough in the 2020 general election, achieving a record 37 seats, yet it spent only €6,000 with a digital consultancy company, along with €38,150 on Facebook advertising.
Its returns were dwarfed by substantially greater social media spending by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to apparently less effect, euro for euro.
Fianna Fáil, which had a poor election by its standards, spent €56,572 on Facebook, plus half as much again – €28,982 – on Google ads. It also spent €2,145 on Snapchat. It won 38 seats.
Fine Gael, which also performed poorly relative to previous election outcomes, spent €121,000 with a single digital entity, unidentified but believed to be Facebook. It won 35 seats.
Leo Varadkar’s party also spent sums of €16,586, €14,900, €4,612 and €1,558 across other online platforms for a total of €183,500 – four times the Sinn Féin spend in this category.
Meanwhile, the watchdog itself says it is concerned that “front-loading” of campaign expenditure undermines the effectiveness of the expenditure limits and “may create the perception that accounting for expenditure at elections is little more than a paper exercise”.
Front-loading is legal and occurs where it is obvious to all that an election is imminent, but has not been called.
Scrupulous accounting of spending only begins once the campaign is officially under way.
The Sipo Commission says it “considers that expenditure on goods, property or services used for electoral purposes in the two to three months leading up to a formal election call could reasonably be construed as intended to elicit support at the election for a candidate or political party”.
For this reason, it argues that such outlays of money “should be included in the reporting of expenses”.
Such a “look-back” facility would require new legislation.
Disclosed election spending has fallen overall, with the splurge for the 2020 election down by 13pc – one euro in eight – compared with the 2016 election.
No Covid case had been detected in Ireland until after completion of the full election count and the campaign operated without public health restraint or adverse conditions.
The official findings show Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were practically neck and neck in spending, at €2.21m and €2.17m respectively.
Sinn Féin spent €697,449 – yet these three parties effectively ended up with the same number of seats apiece.
Labour spent €481,000 and electorally had half the seats of the Greens, who spent nearly €317,000.
Labour added another TD subsequently by winning the Dublin Bay South by-election.
Aontú spent €170,000 to secure the election of only one TD.
The Social Democrats committed €240,000 and matched Labour’s performance for half the outlay.
Solidarity/People Before Profit got through just under €203,000 and saw five TDs elected.