Former Sinn Féin member apologises for anonymous social media abuse

Eoin Ó Broin rejects suggestion there is a ‘Shinnerbot’ phenomenon with the party

Sinn Féin member Paul Heffernan used fake profiles to abuse businessmen, politicians and celebrities on Twitter.

Sinn Féin member Paul Heffernan used fake profiles to abuse businessmen, politicians and celebrities on Twitter.

 

A former Sinn Féin member in Wexford who used an anonymous Twitter account to abuse politicians and businessman has publicly apologised for his actions.

Paul Heffernan had used pseudonyms to send derogatory social media messages to Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne, local businessman Derek Webb, as well as sending abusive messages to model Claudine Keane about her husband Robbie Keane.

In a statement to The Irish Times, Mr Heffernan said he has also personally apologised to Derek Webb, who uncovered his identity.

“I have apologised to Derek Webb and have shook his hand on this matter. He gave me his word that he was happy with the apology and told me I could contact him anytime as ‘I had a friend in Derek Webb’.

“I am truly ashamed of my actions and have sought help for my mental health.

“I would like to also put on record that I am deeply sorry to anyone I have offended. I want to now get on with my life and I hope that Derek can get on with his life too,” he said.

Both Mr Webb and Mr Byrne were subjected to derogatory online comments from an anonymous Twitter profile which used the name “P O’Neill”, a Provisional IRA code name.

In one message, the anonymous account wrote to Mr Webb asking: “are you that fat pig that cycles around Gorey in the Lycra with your man tits hanging out...I’m sure it’s you.”

Other tweets called him a “fat sloth lookalike clown.”

In another tweet he asked him “did special school bring you up to Dublin for the day.”

Mr Webb investigated the anonymous account and eventually confronted Mr Heffernan, and then complained to Sinn Féin.

In a letter to Mr Webb, the party said the messages were “not orchestrated or encouraged” by Sinn Fein.

“Our county board have recently been made aware of an allegation regarding a false social media profile operated by a party member that we understand has caused you distress to date.

“On behalf of County Wexford Sinn Fein, I would like to take this opportunity to express our condemnation of this type of behaviour and to reassure you that the actions of the individual involved were of their own doing and were no way encouraged or orchestrated by our party.”

“By extension we also wish to express our regret of this individual’s actions and would like to extend our apologies to you for any distress caused.

“Sinn Fein at both local and national level is actively opposed to cyber bullying or any form of discriminatory behaviour. As you may be aware the individual in question has now offered their resignation to the party which I can confirm has been unanimously accepted by our elected county board.”

Meanwhile, a senior Sinn Féin TD has said his first response to a party member who trolled and sent abusive messages to businessmen and politicians in Wexford was “good riddance”.

The party’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said that if Mr Heffernan had not resigned he would have been “thrown out of the party”.

However, Mr Ó Broin strongly rejected the suggestion that there was a “Shinnerbot” phenomenon and that the party tolerated supporters abusing people from other parties.

“This business of hiding behind anonymity, I think is cowardly. So if somebody was engaged in that kind of practice and left the party, I think the party is better for it,” Mr Ó Broin said.

“If there is anybody out there who was a supporter of our party or indeed a member of our party and engaged in that, my message to them is don’t do it.

“We have far too many positive things to be talking about to be engaged in nasty or negative, or vitriolic attacks on anybody so I think our record stands for itself.”

Asked specifically about claims of the party promoting so-called Shinnerbots – people who use anonymity to attack opponents of Sinn Féin – he replied; “It’s not true, it doesn’t exist.

“People are accountable for what they say themselves online, and what we can do is we can urge people to use social media positively.

“The party doesn’t benefit from negativity online.”

Mr Ó Broin also rejected the claim by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that Sinn Féin orchestrates attacks on social media, saying the Fine Gael leader “does not know what he is talking about”.

“People who vote for our party, vote for our party because of the policies that we advocate on housing and health and united Ireland. Long may that last.

“Leo Varadkar would be better focused on fixing the problems he created during his last five years in government and deal with the trolls in his own party or his own support base,” he said.