Sinn Féin denies using social media data mining to enhance voter database

Party will ‘take on board’ any suggestions from commissioner on database management, says Eoin Ó Broin

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin speaking to media during a press briefing on the plinth of Leinster House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin speaking to media during a press briefing on the plinth of Leinster House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Sinn Féin has denied that it is “data mining” from Facebook and other social media sites to enhance its voter database.

Housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin told reporters on Monday that the database, which party leader Mary Lou McDonald has been urged to answer questions about in the Dáil, is used “to engage with the electorate, target your vote and get them out on election day”.

“There are claims that we are data mining from Facebook – it is not true,” he said. “Any information I get from anybody on Facebook, they give it to me consensually. I ask them for it and they provide it, and I use that data for the purposes it’s provided, as the law requires.”

Mr Ó Broin said Sinn Féin did not add information collected locally to the database. The party will “take on board” any suggestions from the Data Protection Commissioner about its management of the database, he said.

He said Sinn Féin has replied to questions from the commissioner, though he declined to share the content of the replies.

“Our view is that we are fully compliant with the Data Protection Act. The data is stored in the European Union, the people who have access to the data are the people who should have, they’re elected representatives and their agents during elections,” he said.

Despite being repeatedly pressed by reporters, he declined to say where in the EU the database was held.

The party has also faced questions about a document in which officials were told to use personal information posted on social media by members of the public to canvass a voter’s home address.

Mr Ó Broin said he used the system in his constituency.

“I work the system... we don’t pay anything for it, we don’t charge anybody for the system. It’s an electoral register system, a digital database that we use, just like we used to use pen and paper before we had access to digital technology.”

‘A welcome response’

Asked if Ms McDonald’s comments about the killing of Lord Mountbatten at the weekend were an apology for the IRA’s actions, Mr Ó Broin said it was “a welcome response to the questions”.

“I think any of us, even those of us who were very young when these things happened, have a sense of regret at the scale of loss and suffering during the conflict,” he said. “It’s about being generous, it’s about being reflective.

“Had it been possible for us not to have a conflict, then that’s something we would all have preferred to have seen.”

Pressed as to whether the party leader was apologising, Mr Ó Broin said: “I think it was an admission of regret and an acknowledgement of the suffering for the family involved.”

Asked if Ms McDonald intended to go further than Sinn Féin has gone before in expressing sorrow for IRA actions, he said: “I don’t know... But given what’s going on in the streets of Belfast, if all political leaders were as thoughtful and considered in their responses, I think we’d be in a better place.”

Mr Ó Broin also warned that the reopening of society and the ending of the ban on evictions would see an increase in the number of people falling into homelessness.

“We think the ban on evictions, with a few limitations, should be continued to the end of the year,” he said ahead of Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien appearing before the Oireachtas housing committee on Tuesday.