Ivor Callely: how social media responded to the expenses scandal

Photograph of Ivor Callely

On Sunday, May 30th, 2010, The Sunday Independent ran a story detailing €81,015 claimed in expenses by Ivor Callely, Fianna Fáil Senator. A day later – following the Irish Independent Front Page story – online conversations about Callely began in earnest. O’Leary Analytics has examined the conversations that have taken place online, from May 30th to August 10th. Key findings include:

  • Over 5,000 tweets / comments / Facebook messages / message board posts were published
  • 27% of the comments came from individuals with a medium to high measure of influence
  • Fianna Fáil is mentioned over 3,000 times
  • “Controversy”, “suspended” and “investigation” are three of the most common words found in the content


Some of the first social media discussions of Callely appeared on popular Cork Forum, The People’s Republic of Cork.

On the thread, titled “Big Welcome to Cork’s New Senator – Ivor Callely” the comments began in jest, encouraging Callely to learn “Corkish”. However, this initial tone was quickly replaced by anger and the first suggestions of prosecution were made.

Those five comments on Monday May 31st, were the first of what was soon to become a torrent. A day later, the total count of comments naming Callely was 61. The conversation was now spreading to Twitter, popular Irish message board Boards.ie and Irish political forum Politics.ie

Ivor Callely Day by Day Social Media Coverage: May - August 2010
Ivor Callely Day by Day Social Media Coverage: May - August 2010

When the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, asked for a written explanation from Callely, the topic quickly began to dominate the social media sphere in Ireland. On Wednesday June 2nd 2010, three days after the article in the Sunday Independent, there were 584 mentions of the Senator in 24 hours. As well as the main discussion forums listed above, people began to debate the issue in mainstream news sources online, both in Ireland and internationally.

Not only were people commenting on the issues of expenses, there was an obvious and strong desire to ensure details were documented correctly. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, was updated four times in the same 24-hour period as new details emerged in relation to the story. Each update was recorded and can be found here:

  • Update 1 “On 8 December 2005, he resigned his cabinet post after an [[RTÉ News]] report that a building contractor involved in public contracts had painted his house for free in the early 1990s. He lost the next election but Bertie Ahern stood by him and appointed him to the Senate, following which he adjusted his domicile to Cork.”
  • Update 2 “This had absolutley nothing to do with the fact that he could then claim increaded expenses for travel and overnights while attending the Senate”
  • Update 3 “On 30 May 2010, it was revealed under a Freedom of Information Act request, that Callely had claimed expenses totalling €81,015 since 2007 for overnight and travel expenses to a house in [[County Cork]]”
  • Update 4 “Whilst constantly embroiled in controversy Callely does not seem to contribute anything to political life in Ireland. He was appointed by ahern in an obvious “jobs for the boys” move.”

As the conversations continued online, Callely remained silent. However, when he did break his silence, to protest his innocence, at a committee investigating his Oireachtas expense claims, there was a significant spike in coverage – June 25th – 365 mentions. As well as the various conversations, the Press Association reported on the topic.

The next major spike occurred on July 14th, when Callely was suspended without pay for 20 days, following the enquiry. Again, the conversation spiked as people in Ireland reacted, online, to the latest development. On Twitter,  journalists, political commentators and the general public were joined in the conversation by other politicians, including Ivana Bacik: “Ivor Callely just been censured – 20 days suspension. No debate but we oppose indefinite adjournment”


When the content of the conversations is analysed, a clear picture emerges in terms of what people were talking about in relation to Callely. In the word cloud below, the most common words found in all 5,347 comments/tweets/messages/articles that mentioned Callely are represented.

Word Cloud of the Most Common Words in the Callely Conversations
Word Cloud of the Most Common Words in the Callely Conversations

After “Callely” himself (12,507 mentions) the next most prominent word was “expenses” (8,351 mentions). Other commonly occurring words included “controversial”/”controversy” (2,055 combined mentions), “suspended” (1,161) and “investigation” (1,519 mentions). For his party, Fianna Fail, it has been a controversy that is impossible to get away from. “Fianna Fáil” appeared more than 3,000 times in the coverage of Mr Callely to date.


When looking at the conversations surrounding the story, it is important to examine those who are talking, and their potential reach. For Callely, and all those associated with the scandal, the figures don’t make for pleasant reading.

Bar Chart of the Popularity of those talking about Ivor Callely online
Bar Chart of the Popularity of those talking about Ivor Callely online

Popularity, or “measure of influence”, is calculated by a series of algorithms, which takes into account multiple aspects of the individual authors online profile – including but not limited to: the number of followers they have on Twitter; the number of friends on Facebook; the number of posts on a message board such as Boards.ie or Politics.ie. The measure of influence of those talking about Ivor Callely ranges from 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest.

  • 27%  of the comments (1,421) were made by people with a “measure of influence” of 5 or higher.
  • 17% of the comments (886) were made by people with a “measure of influence” of 9 or 10.

Sentiment Surrounding the Scandal

It will come as little surprise to anyone who has read, listened or discussed this topic over the past number of months that the overwhelming sentiment in relation to Ivoe Callely is negative.

Ivor Callely Sentiment Analysis
Ivor Callely Sentiment Analysis

Over 31% of the coverage was deemed negative or very negative. Sample negative comments included:

Some of the positive mentions included:


The Callely saga is set to continue over the coming weeks and months. The most recent and serious allegations relate to his claim for almost €3,000 in mobile phone expenses using invoices from a company that went out of business a decade ago. The Sunday Tribune report that “Garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy will appoint a senior officer who will lead the probe“. The outcome of this investigation, and those by both the Fianna Fáil party and the Seanad committee, will ultimately determine Callely’s personal and political future. Whatever the result, the conversation, online, is set to continue.

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