Eoghan Harris-linked Twitter account under Garda investigation

Anti-Sinn Féin account frequently targeted journalists and other public figures

Eoghan Harris in 2012. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Eoghan Harris in 2012. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Gardaí have confirmed they are investigating the alleged online harassment of a female journalist through Twitter.

Some of the content at the centre of the criminal complaint came from a now-suspended anti-Sinn Féin account used by ex-Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris.

Mr Harris has said he was one of five or six contributors to the account. He denied tweets from the account were abusive or sexualised and said they were political in nature.

Mr Harris’s involvement in the account, which was set up under the name Barbara Pym, after the late English novelist, led to him being dropped by the Sunday Independent earlier this week after two decades as a columnist for the paper.

Gardaí were initially unable to confirm a criminal complaint had been received but on Saturday a spokesman said officers in Pearse Street station in Dublin had “received a complaint in relation to alleged online harassment ... As this is an ongoing investigation An Garda Síochána cannot make any further comment.”

The criminal complaint about the Pym account and another account that has also since been suspended by Twitter, was made before it was known Mr Harris was one if its users.

Early stage

The complaint was made on behalf of Irish Examiner political correspondent Aoife Grace Moore by her employer.

The investigation is at an early stage, and gardaí in Pearse Street intend to interview Ms Moore shortly. A review of an archived version of the Pym account shows about 50 tweets directed at Ms Moore or mentioning her, over a one-year period, many of them negative in nature.

Mr Harris admitted the account was used to send tweets asking if Moore was “turned on” by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald being the first woman to lead the Opposition as well as tweets referring to her “sniping safely from behind Derry hedges,” adding that “her SF backside is sticking up in the air”.

However, he said these were “clearly political and could equally be applied to a man”.

The Garda investigation is also looking at the activity of another account, which was also shut down by Twitter on Friday on the basis that it was linked to the Pym account.

The account mentioned Ms Moore almost 90 times since she joined the Examiner in early 2020. These included tweets calling her a “partisan blow-in from Derry” who put her colleagues at the paper under a “Shinnery spell”.

Mr Harris has denied being behind this account and said it was run by a real person whom he knows.

Linked accounts

At least 10 accounts linked to the Pym account have now been shut down by Twitter for breaching its rules against “platform manipulation”.

This includes an account called Northernwig, which was suspended at the weekend after Sunday Independent editor Alan English wrote that he suspected it was linked to Mr Harris.

Mr English said the account accused him of being under a “witch’s spell” and frequently alleged that the paper’s Northern Ireland coverage was being influenced by “Lady Macbeth”.

The account made it clear Lady Macbeth was Francine Cunningham, the wife of the newspaper’s publisher Peter Vandermeersch, Mr English said.

Separately, lawyers for Sean Murray, the director of the documentary Unquiet Graves: The Story of the Glenanne Gang, have said they are considering legal action regarding “numerous outrageous and derogatory comments” made on the Pym account.

Journalist Paul Larkin has also retained lawyers after the Pym account referred to an Irish Times article he wrote as “Provo sectarian poison”.