| 17.6°C Dublin

Why I'll never stop tweeting in the Seanad even if they ban it

Being chosen to speak in a debate in the Oireachtas is always a privilege. The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad calls your name. Members turn in their seats looking for words of experience or passion.

The light on the microphone turns red. Party colleagues stop speaking or heckling. I take to my feet to speak. You do your best not to disappoint.


Two questions are always on my mind. Firstly, is anyone listening? Secondly, does anyone care? The first question is the most important. People can only form an opinion on what you are doing if they are aware of your efforts in the first place.

Barack Obama showed that the internet can play a huge role in political campaigning by communicating your work and hearing from those you represent. One of his most effective tools was the social networking site Twitter.

This is a service that allows members to send and receive messages known as 'Tweets'. These are text messages that can only be 140 characters long and can be viewed by anyone. If you are particularly interested in a 'Twitterer', you subscribe to their messages.

Twitter is hugely popular. It is the third most popular social media site in the world but also the fastest growing. Twitter now receives 55 million visits per month.

Celebrities have led the way with Twitter. Stephen Fry tweets to more than one million followers. Other famous figures who share their thoughts to millions include Oprah Winfrey, Demi Moore and Boris Johnson.

I have now been 'tweeting' for the last year through my Blackberry or iPod. National newspapers are never a good place for confessing addictions but 'tweeting' is now an addictive part of my daily life!

This is because Twitter works. Constituents contact me to say that they follow my messages and find it helpful for understanding my work. No national newspaper will ever print excerpts from every committee meeting I attend or every meeting I speak at. My 'tweets' allow me to provide this service.

Through Twitter, I can be followed from my contribution on the Order of Business, to what I say in a Transport Committee meeting to a constituency meeting at night.

Followers can understand the work that is done but rarely receives coverage. During the recent NAMA Seanad debate I posted more than 100 'tweets' to allow viewers to follow the discussion and the voting on this hugely important bill.


I received many contacts during the debate through Twitter with feedback on the bill. One 'tweet' asked me to wave at the camera for the live broadcast on the internet! I felt I had to say 'no' to that request.

This is a vital part of the Twitter service. It provides an instant method of communicating messages. During the recent civil unrest in Iran it was used by dissidents to communicate when all other media was closed.

Every day, people let me know what they think of my work through messages on Twitter.

It may become difficult to keep this going. The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad has said that he will ban the use of mobile phones in the chamber. However it is clear to me that there is a dire need to communicate more the work of the Oireachtas, not less.

Paschal Donohoe is a Fine Gael Senator representing Dublin Central