Sinn Féin will appear before the Oireachtas on Housing, Local Government and Heritage to answer questions on its transnational social media operation and voter database, Fine Gael Senator John Cummins has confirmed.
Senator Cummins has welcomed agreement by Committee members of an extension to the current legislative debate on the Electoral Reform Bill so that wider issues around social media advertising and spending, the electoral register and the Sinn Féin database controversary can be dealt with.
This comes after Senator Cummins wrote to Committee Chair Steven Matthews expressing deep concern over Sinn Féin’s Abú system and whether the party is harvesting data from social media users for electoral purposes.
Senator Cummins said: “I welcome today’s agreement by Committee members that all political parties come before it to answer questions on their social media practices and give wider feedback on the Electoral Reform Bill.
“Sinn Féin had resisted the focus being placed on them and insisted that the hearing be widened to all parties, despite no other party having such a voter system.
“There are legitimate concerns over Sinn Féin’s social media practices and this database where the party is potentially storing information on millions of voters, including names, addresses and political views.
“This Committee meeting will finally give Sinn Féin the opportunity to account for their actions and face questioning over their transnational online activities, Facebook advertising and the Abú system.
“Committee members will be entitled to ask any questions in this context. The questions I will be asking are who developed this highly sophisticated system, where it is based, and how the party paid for it? I would also like to know is it a case that Sinn Féin are circumventing SIPO rules by basing the system outside of this state? And who are the individuals that have access to this information?
“Sinn Féin have stayed silent on this matter for too long and the public deserves to know how their personal information is being handled on this database, amid concerns over a potential breach of GDPR.
“If political parties have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear, but if something untoward is at play, then Sinn Féin should be held accountable for their actions.
“The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has written to the party seeking answers on the Abú system, which is welcome. Sinn Féin seem to have softened their position this week by saying they are now willing to address and take suggestions from the DPC. This is at odds with their position last week where they stated questions in relation to this matter were unreasonable and nonsense.
“I have written to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) asking for a full investigation into the Abú system and other issues, including the party’s links to Germany and Serbia where some of its Facebook accounts are managed.
“The Committee also agreed to invite Facebook back into the Committee to answer further questions on potential loopholes that exist on their platform to avoid ad spend being captured on a party or politicians ad library. SIPO will also be invited in to give evidence in this context.
“The learnings from this engagement should have a bearing on the Electoral Reform Bill which we are currently examining. It is crucial that this Bill is robust enough to ensure that all parties in this State operate on a level playing field and that external interference in our democratic process is avoided,” Senator Cummins concluded.