Four of Ireland’s biggest political parties, including the three currently in power, are facing audits after admitting to using fictional market research companies and posing as pollsters to survey voter mood ahead of elections.
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) is conducting an investigation into how Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, as well as opposition party Sinn Féin, have handled private data collected from voting members of the public. In a statement, the DPC said that “all political parties have been asked to account for the source of each field of personal data they process concerning electors/voters.”
Earlier this week, news emerged that Sinn Féin party members had worn fake identification badges and pretended to be pollsters to survey unsuspecting households prior to, and during, elections.
Citing a leaked 2015 internal party document, the Irish Independent paper reported that party members were instructed on how to pass as employees of a fake polling firm called ‘Irish Market Research Agency’ so as to ascertain voting intentions ahead of the country’s 2016 general election.
The party’s representatives defended the practise, noting that it was “entirely anonymous” with “no identifiable private information or data… used, collected or stored.” Spokesman Eoin Ó Broin suggested that such activities were “standard practice” at election time. He claimed it was a “key way to level the playing field” in light of the expenses involved in polling.
“The accuracy of those polls was just as good as polls that you would pay thousands of euros for and we stand over that. The polls were done properly and ethically in my view,” Ó Broin told Newstalk radio. It turned out that the practice was indeed standard among parties, with deputy PM Leo Varadkar forced to admit shortly after that his party, Fine Gael, had done “something similar” in the runup to the 2011 election, using volunteers and university students from the party’s youth wings to act as independent researchers.