Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein demands a probe into DUP links to Canadian firm AggregateIQ

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein is calling for an investigation into the DUP’s links with a Canadian company embroiled in a global data harvesting row.

Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy has written to the Information Commissioner’s Office asking it to look into the DUP’s connection to AggregateIQ. The party paid the firm £32,750 during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

It has been alleged that AggregateIQ is linked to Cambridge Analytica, the company at the centre of a scandal over the harvesting and storing of social media users’ data.

Cambridge Analytica was suspended from Facebook last week after it emerged that data on millions of users had not been destroyed as agreed.

Whistleblower Chris Wylie, a former research director at the UK-based firm, told Channel 4 a so-called data grab had been carried out on more than 50 million profiles in 2014.

In December, the Information Commissioner’s Office said AggregateIQ was one of several organisations involved in an investigation aimed at providing insight into “how personal information is used in political campaigns”.

Mr Molloy said: “As details emerge of mass invasions of privacy allegedly carried out by Cambridge Analytica to assist the far-right Donald Trump and Leave campaigns, the DUP have a duty to tell us what they were buying with their money. I have asked the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate the DUP’s relationship with this firm during the Brexit campaign.”

A DUP spokesman said: “Encouraging people to come out and vote for your party is what election campaigns exist to achieve.

“We want to communicate our message as widely as possible, and this includes the use of social media. We will take no lectures from Sinn Fein about social media.

“There are 26 million reasons why it is utter hypocrisy for Sinn Fein to criticise anyone on grounds of financial transparency.

“They have raised millions of dark money in foreign donations. Indeed, one third of all money spent by Sinn Fein in the recent Assembly election was foreign.

“Our campaigns meet all legal and regulatory conditions.”

The party has also called on Sinn Fein to explain how money from its fundraising events this month in Canada would be spent.

At the weekend, a concert in Toronto by the Wolfe Tones cost $45 (£32) a ticket while Sinn Fein senator Niall O Donnghaile is to address an Easter Rising commemoration on March 31 costing $60 (£43) a ticket.

Before expenses are paid, the two events could net Sinn Fein over $19,000 (£13,500), according to the DUP. The party claimed Sinn Fein had raised over $12m (£8.5m) from the US over the past 20 years and had also successfully raised funds in Canada and Australia.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said: “Those who have been so exercised about political donations here have done nothing to close the loophole which allows huge amounts of foreign money to influence politics in Northern Ireland in a way that is banned in both the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“The former president of Friends of Sinn Fein boasted of ‘paying the bill’ when it came to Sinn Fein offices, phones, computers and transport.

“Nowhere else on these islands would it be acceptable for someone in the US, Canada or any other foreign country to boast of paying the bills of a political party.”

Belfast Telegraph

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