Nesbitt calls for answers after latest data collection controversy
UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt has called for an investigation after it emerged Sinn Fein created a fake polling company to gather information from voters in the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Nesbitt said there was a need to identify if the party deployed similar tactics in Northern Ireland.
It comes after the Irish Independent revealed Sinn Fein provided party members in the Republic with fake ID badges and instructions on how to misrepresent themselves as pollsters to survey households before and during elections.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail admitted yesterday they had also taken part in fake polling.
A Sinn Fein internal training manual contained detailed instructions for activists on how to pose as researchers working for a polling company to covertly question voters.
The 77-page document set out how members should ask voters about their intentions under the guise of the “Irish Market Research Agency”, which does not exist. It was used in a number of election campaigns in the Republic from 2010 onwards.
Mr Nesbitt said the revelation was "further evidence” Sinn Fein was different from normal political parties.
"If any other party in Northern Ireland or the Republic was going round the doors, passing themselves off as fake pollsters and seeking to get information off voters, then Sinn Fein would be leading the outcry. However, because they are the ones doing it, it suddenly becomes a case of ‘nothing to see here, please move along," the Strangford MLA said.
Mr Nesbitt rubbished claims from Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin that the party could not afford to hire a professional polling company at the time.
The UUP MLA described it as a "truly bizarre statement", noted that Sinn Fein received millions in funding from the United States and said that claims of lack of funds were "complete and utter rubbish".
"I saw it with my own eyes as a broadcast journalist reporting on Gerry Adams in the USA. He was hosting a black tie, $500-a-plate reception in the Trump Plaza one minute and wooing the Irish-Americans of the Bronx in an Aran sweater the next,” Mr Nesbitt added.
"Every single other political party on the island of Ireland would love to have such ‘limited resources’ as that.”
“Given that this happened in the Republic, it is obviously a matter for the authorities there, but the question arises as to whether the same tactics were deployed in Northern Ireland.
"It’s a very reasonable question and one that should be posed to Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at the earliest opportunity.”
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said all parties conducted private polling and they now “generally use professional companies”.
Mr Varadkar said his party discontinued the practice in 2016.
"Volunteers would have been asked to do surveys door-to-door or students would have been paid to do it and it would have been done on a similar basis – anonymised for the purposes of polling,” the Tanaiste added.
A Fianna Fail spokesperson said party members posed as market researchers to conduct polling prior to 2007.