The state of a party's website can reveal a lot about its fortunes. When the Ulster Democratic Party was dissolved in 2001 the party website disappeared while the domain for the Northern Ireland Unionist Party 'expired' in early 2004, a few months after the party failed to retain any of its seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The website for the Reverend Martin Smyth became defunct while he still held elected office, a few months before the end of his final term as MP for South Belfast.
The Democratic Unionist Party has adopted the new technologies with particular enthusiasm and provides email updates, text-messages, video and cartoons on its website. The design of the home page makes use of a much wider range of graphic elements than other unionist sites. The Ulster Unionist party site was redesigned in the run-up to the May 2005 Westminster elections and now echoes many of the graphic elements on the DUP website. The DUP also makes innovative use of the technology to support a very traditional type of local politics. The website for DUP MP Peter Robinson, for example, allow voters to contact his constituency advice centre online, filling out a form giving 'details of problem' and 'action sought'. By late 2005 one of the most prominent features of the UUP website was a new 'Online advice centre' allowing constituents to do the same thing.
The DUP tradition of using alternative media can be traced back to the Rev. Ian Paisley's establishment of the Protestant Telegraph years before he founded the DUP. This alternative newsletter was intended to counter an unsympathetic mass media and persistent suspicion of the mass media partly explains why the party is so enthusiastic about the new information and communication technologies.
There is a lot of unevenness in the use of the Web by
individual candidates. Most Unionist elected representatives don't
have a website and those that do vary widely in how effectively they
use their sites. The websites of elected representatives link to the
central party but it's extremely rare for a representative to link to
the websites of other representatives from the same party, a notable
exception being the website of Norman Hillis, UUP MLA. Only
two local unionist or loyalist party branches have websites, a
notable online absence when compared with the number of sites set up
by aspiring and sitting MLAs and MPs. URLs sometimes include
reference to election campaigns, as in the example of http://www.votewilson1.org/,
illustrating the fact that websites often originate as a campaigning
tool in the run up to an election. When candidates are unsuccessful
their sites tend to disappear shortly after the election.
This section lists sites that became defunct as a direct result of the election
Author: Niall O Dochartaigh
First produced: August 2004
Updated: March 16, 2005; April 6, 2005; November 4, 2005.