The involvement of columnist Eoghan Harris in an anonymous anti-Sinn Féin social media account was discovered after the account shared secret details of a poll on a united Ireland last week.
The well-known writer and former senator was dropped by the Sunday Independent as a columnist on Thursday after management learned he was contributing to a Twitter account operating behind the fake name of Barbara Pym.
Sunday Independent editor Alan English said the content posted from the account, much of which was directed at Sinn Féin and nationalists, went beyond fair and reasonable comment and was a "betrayal of trust".
It is understood Harris’s involvement in the account, which used the handle @barbarapym2, came to light last weekend as the Sunday Independent prepared to published the results of a poll it had commissioned on a united Ireland.
Harris was given the results of the poll ahead of publication. Shortly afterwards, details appeared on the Pym account. Management approached Harris and he admitted contributing to the account. This account was confirmed by Harris to The Irish Times yesterday.
Harris told The Irish Times he thought the poll results were in the public domain at the time that the Pym account shared them.
Yesterday, Twitter suspended the Pym account on the grounds it broke the platform’s rules on “platform manipulation”.
The company bans the use of accounts which “artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behaviour that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter”. It also banned a further eight accounts, which it said were linked to the Pym account.
Some of these accounts had also been used to share vitriolic anti-Sinn Féin content. However, Harris said he was only involved in the Pym account, which he operated with five or six other people.
He declined to name these people, saying he did not want to “get them shot”.
Since February 2020, the Pym account has frequently criticised, and sometimes insulted, politicians, journalists and other public figures, who it suggested were pro-Sinn Féin.
It was also regularly used to praise the work of Harris and his colleagues at the newspaper, while railing against other journalists’ work.
One of those criticised by the account, Irish Examiner political correspondent Aoife Grace Moore, alleged on Twitter that the Pym account had sent her sexualised messages and had called her a terrorist, resulting in her seeking counselling.
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”.
It is understood a complaint has been made to gardaí in Pearse Street, Dublin, regarding abusive tweets sent to Moore. This complaint was made before Harris was confirmed as a contributor to the account and it has yet to be progressed by gardaí.
While he had a long association with the Sunday Independent, Harris (79) started out in current affairs in RTÉ in the 1960s when he was also involved in republican and Marxist politics. Through the 1970s he was active with the Workers’ Party, and became a staunch critic of the IRA and Sinn Féin.
He played a role - the significance of which is still much disputed - in Mary Robinson’s successful 1990 presidential campaign, and he acted as a political advisor sporadically for other politicians including former Fine Gael leader John Bruton and former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble.
In 2007, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern nominated him to the Seanad, in part recognition of Harris’ warm relationship with unionists, and he served there until 2011. In recent years, his commentary has focused on the perceived threat of Sinn Féin’s electoral success and what Harris claims has been soft coverage in RTÉ of the party’s operations.