Sinn Féin hopes to use controversial voter database for Dublin byelection

Eoin Ó Broin says the Abú system ‘helps us win elections’

Eoin Ó Broin. Sinn Féin has denied that it uses ‘data-mining’ rom social media to update the database . Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Eoin Ó Broin. Sinn Féin has denied that it uses ‘data-mining’ rom social media to update the database . Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Senior Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin has said he is “hopeful” the party will be able to use its Abú voter database for the upcoming Dublin Bay South byelection.

He said it’s a “good system” and it “helps us win elections”.

The database has been at the centre of controversy after reports that party members are encouraged to add information on voters including their perceived level of support for the party.

Sinn Féin has denied that it uses “data-mining” from social media to update the database.

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has raised questions about the database and is engaging with Sinn Féin.

In recent weeks, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said that when the database was set up the party had a data compliance officer but not a data protection officer and it has since employed one.

Mr Ó Broin was asked about the database by reporters on Tuesday and said he uses it during elections and when he is out canvassing.

Asked if the database will be used for the upcoming Dublin Bay South byelection he replied: “I can see no reason why not, other than if there are any other issues which the Data Protection Commissioner asks us to address we will obviously have to address those because that’s the appropriate course of action.

“But I would be quite hopeful that we’ll be able to use the system.

“It’s a good system. I don’t believe it is in serious contravention of data protection regulations and it helps us win elections.”

Asked if canvassers in the constituency will be able to mark the Abú system with whether households support Sinn Féin or other parties, he said: “That’s what all political parties do with their canvass returns whether they keep them with paper on individual constituency databases or a facility like ours.

“So we’ll do what we’ve always done in elections. But again, I just want to emphasise, if the DPC has any other concerns, we will respond to those fully and as quickly as is required.”

Sinn Féin has yet to announce a candidate for the byelection. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald confirmed in recent weeks that Sinn Féin had appointment a data protection officer after its engagement with the DPC.

It previously had a data compliance officer. The party is also now carrying out a data protection risk assessment.

Mr Ó Broin had previously said that he believed the party was complaint with data protection regulations though he said that he also noted that if the DPC raised issues it would respond immediately.

On Tuesday he said: “The issue of the data protection officer and the audit, they were serious oversights.

“The Data Protection Commissioner has brought them to our attention and we’ve rectified them. And keep in mind we’re continuing to engage with the DPC and if she brings other matters to our attention we’ll address that.”

He insisted that Sinn Féin didn’t think it was “above the law”, adding: “We feel that the core of the system is compliant.”

Mr Ó Broin said that “the central contention that some people are making... that we have been taking information surreptitiously from social media sources, uploading it onto an online system... isn’t true”.

He said that a party training manual that suggested this is what was happening is “really, really badly worded”.

Asked how he knew people were not doing this, given that the training manual told them to do it Mr Ó Broin said: “because the system doesn’t allow it.”

“I use the system during elections. I was the director of election for Mark Ward during the byelection. I know what the system can do and can’t do.

“And I firmly believe, when the Data Protection Commissioner concludes her work, that the core allegations being made against our party will be proven to be not the case because I know it’s not possible in the system.”