Mary Lou McDonald now admits, after weeks of denial, that Sinn Fein did not comply with the most basic of data protection laws
Taoiseach Micheal Martin has branded Sinn Fein’s failure to answer questions about its secret voter database and use of social media as “deeply sinister”.
Speaking for the first time about the controversy around Sinn Fein’s Abu system, Mr Martin called on “all regulatory authorities” and the political system to investigate what Mary Lou McDonald’s party is doing with the personal information of millions of voters.
“It is unprecedented and it is deeply worrying, and I believe Sinn Fein’s behaviour, in terms of its lack of transparency in responding to legitimate questions, is deeply sinister,” he told the Sunday Independent.
“For two weeks they were flailing about the place, not telling the truth, saying everything was above board and there was ‘nothing to see here’.
"In fact, their party leader has admitted now, after weeks of denial, that Sinn Fein did not comply with the most basic of laws when compiling their Abu database.”
Mr Martin said he found it “incredible” that Sinn Fein had not appointed a data protection officer to oversee a database, based first in London then Germany, that contained the names, addresses and voting intentions of Irish citizens.
“While there are exemptions for use of the electoral register for electoral activities by elected public representatives, this use of the electoral register on a national scale — and its industrialisation at a central level — is not covered by this exemption,” Mr Martin said.
The Taoiseach also said there is “something sinister” about Sinn Fein telling party members to elicit information from Facebook users and to cross-reference it with Abu in order to establish where potential voters live.
An internal Sinn Fein training manual for using Facebook states: “You can use the search function in the Abu system to find the person you have engaged with online, tag them as a social media engager and follow up with a canvass on their doorstep.”
Yesterday, Sinn Fein housing spokesperson Eoin O Broin said the training presentation was “stupidly worded” and claimed the database could not be used to cross-reference information elicited from Facebook users.
Mr Martin said TD Mr O Broin’s comments were “not credible”.
“Does he take us all for fools when he says the language was stupid?” he asked. “No one buys that, and he should respect people a bit more, rather than take them for fools.”
Last week, Mr O Broin said he does elicit personal information from social media users, but insisted he does it consensually. Asked if he used the Abu database to record this information, the Dublin Mid-West deputy said he stored it in his memory.
The Taoiseach also accused Sinn Fein of adding to the “toxic atmosphere” of social media.
“We know there is large group of Facebook users who target people online, and it is noticeable that when members of other political parties tweet or post, there is almost an automated factory response of attacking and undermining, in a very aggressive and hostile way,” Mr Martin said.
“If someone isn’t favourably disposed to Sinn Fein, there has been a pattern of very hostile and toxic trolling and targeting of that person.
"Sinn Fein’s tactics on social media are undermining decent politics.”
The Taoiseach’s comments come after Ms McDonald admitted the Abu database was not in compliance with data protection legislation.
Despite holding the personal information of millions of voters, the party had not registered a data protection officer to oversee the database.
Ms McDonald conceded the party only registered a data protection officer after it was contacted by the Data Protection Commissioner following reports about Abu published in the Sunday Independent.
A data protection officer must be qualified for the role and must register with the Data Protection Commissioner. Sinn Fein appointed a data protection officer after being contacted by the commissioner.
During an interview on RTE’s Prime Time, Ms McDonald also admitted the party had not carried out a data protection impact assessment on the internal voter database.
Under GDPR, public bodies are required to carry out risk assessments to ensure their databases are compliant with legislation and that the information stored on servers is safe.
On the Late Late Show, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was asked about Ms McDonald confirming the two breaches.
She said: “Sorry, I didn’t see Prime Time, so I’m not going to second-guess what she said.”
Ms O’Neill has refused to answer questions about her Facebook account being managed from Serbia. She did not say why that arrangement ended after it was reported.
Ms McDonald revealed last week that the Sinn Fein voter database had been stored in London, but after Brexit it was moved to Frankfurt.
Sinn Fein is still refusing to answer questions on why it closed the online portal for the Abu system when details of its existence were made public.
Party TD David Cullinane said the database was “compromised” when its existence was reported.
However, the party would not say how it had been compromised or why the portal was moved to a new website domain.
The password-protected database can currently be accessed at sfcanvass.ie.
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