This morning I met Terence Flanagan, and it didn't go well for either of us.
Mr. Flanagan is a Renua Ireland candidate in Dublin Bay North in the 2016 general election (taking place today, 26th February, 2016). He was elected in the last general election in 2011 as a Fine Gael candidate in the former constituency of Dublin North East1.
Some time after his old constituency was abolished and before he left Fine Gael, I met him outside the door of the local supermarket. He was clearly on a getting-to-know-his-new-constituents gig. I spoke to him briefly; raising some matter of concern, the nature of which escapes me. I gave him my contact details (I think by giving him my personal card) so that he could contact me.
I have no memory of him ringing me, and a search of my e-mails suggest he didn't get back to me.
Except, he did. Yesterday. The day before the election. With this:
Update: In case you can't see the image, it's a screen-shot of an SMS I received, which reads "FROM TERENCE FLANAGAN: Thank you for the courtesy shown to myself and my team during the General Election Campaign. I would be grateful for your support tomorrow. Many thanks, Terence Flanagan. OPTOUT 50123" and the timestamp on it is 21:18, Feb 25.
This text came in while I was waiting for another one, and it was irritating and frustrating to be presented with it.
This morning, as I was walking past a busy junction, I saw Mr. Flanagan canvassing – obviously hard – for the last few votes from the last few undecideds. I decided that I was going to raise my concern at being contacted like this out of the blue.
I went up to him, and as I approached him, I was not happy with how I was feeling.
He saw me approach, seemed to like the idea and put out his hand to greet me with "Hi. Terence Flanagan".
It went quickly downhill from there:
"I know who you are," I said, keeping my hand down. "I spoke to you some years ago, and gave you my number. I never heard from you. Until I got that text message from you last night. I didn't give you my number to spam me. There's no way you're getting my vote!"
I genuinely could not believe the rage I got into. I went from annoyed when I decided to talk to him to furious as I walked away from him (with him calling after me "You can unsubscribe, you know!").
Mr. Flanagan, if you're reading this2, a fundamental principle of data protection is that a public figure like you is not allowed to use my contact details to contact me in this manner except with my express consent. It's possible that politicians have carved out an exception for themselves from these legal requirements. I remember that there was an attempt to do just that a decade or so ago. It doesn't change the principle: I did not consent to receiving that SMS from you.
I can only hope that sending "optout" to 50123 will really remove my number from that spam list. Will it get Mr. Flanagan to understand that I don't want to be contacted in this way, I wonder?