Eoghan Harris doubles down on posts from anonymous Twitter account after outrage - Irish Mirror

Former Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris has denied that any of the tweets he sent from an anonymous Twitter account were offensive.

Harris, 79, was sacked from his weekly column after it emerged he was behind @barbarapym2, a troll account which had spent the guts of the last 18 months posting incendiary tweets about Sinn Fein and targeting journalists.

But speaking to Drivetime on RTE this evening to host Sarah McInerney, Harris said it wasn't just him in control - and went into detail as to why he did what he did.

Repeatedly referring to the account as a 'site', he said: "I was one of the founders of the site, but recent times I was helping. I moved to the background, more of an advisor and talked to 5 or 6 people on the site.

"I'm a weekly political columnist and my politics are well-known. But I couldn't address my readers with everything I wanted. I was a close friend of David Irvine. I felt that the protestant working class had become alienated. I wanted access to many loyalists and unionists to tell them that the Republic had no problems with them.

"I had no problem admitting when I was asked about it but others were not because they were afraid of Sinn Féin. I felt I needed that outlet and the site is available to anyone. Go back as far as you like and you'll see an effort to calm working class loyalists."

Harris would not name who else was behind the account, which has since been suspended.

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris (Image: Collins)
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"I can't name them if they don't want their names mentioned. Historians and trade unionists of the older generation. No other journalists, there's quite an extraordinary number of businesspeople are interested in the site who have dealings with Northern Ireland. Of the six, two are businesspeople.

"There are no politicians. They wouldn't be public figures, but they'd be people with knowledge of Northern Ireland."

McInerney questioned why the account had to be anonymous

Harris replied: "I was anonymous because they were anonymous. I outed myself when I was asked by my colleagues. The others in the group are nervous of Sinn Fein.

"As I explained - I couldn't write in my column every week about Northern Ireland. I have always named journalists, I have never been afraid to do so. Probably why I was a 'non-person' in RTE terms, I never got the invite.

"I couldn't lump Northern Ireland stuff on my readers every Sunday, so I needed an outlet to address Northern Irish people. I needed the assistance of other people, so I couldn't use my own name.

Harris then doubled down on some of the tweets posted by the account.

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"I don't think that any fair-minded person going through that account would see it as any other than a benign account, there are a few rough patches aimed at people who can take it."

McInerney then brought up Aoife Moore, the Irish Examiner journalist who said she had to go to gardai and get counselling after receiving sexually abusive tweets from the account.

But again, Harris denied they were in any way offensive.

"Well, there were two posts. One of which said that she was hiding out and you could still see her backside. You could say that about any male politician. That could be said about ANY politician. There's nothing sexually offensive about that. It's more humorous than anything else.

"And the other thing. Simply because I said she was turned on by Mary Lou McDonald, she saw that as sexually offensive! Sure I could say that about myself with Micheál Martin."

McInerney brought up a couple more tweets from 'Barbara Pym's' account - but Harris went on the offensive as a result.

"You're extremely well informed, it's a pity you wouldn't do that kind of digging with Sinn Fein accounts. Sinn Fein's lone poltiical opponent, me, warning about SF fascism. And you sit me down and do digging about me. It's a pile-on.

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"If a journalist enabled Sinn Fein, tweets were justified. I name names every Sunday in my column. I'm not shy of naming names. Bottom line is, I'm one of the only journalists in Ireland to tackle Sinn Fein. I opened up a new account to tackle them. It was not set up out of any malice.

"They were robust, political tweets aimed at tough political people. It occurred to me to use my own name, but if there was a group of people, it was much simpler to do it like this. There's nothing problematic about anonymity."

Twitter suspended nine other accounts that were related to the Barbara Pym account - but Harris denied he had anything to do with any of them.

"SF regularly accuse me of being involved with number of accounts. If I could be associated with any of the accounts that have been suspended, I'd be Superman. I am not associated, Sinn Fein troll and accuse me of being associated with other accounts - if they were right, I'd be Superman.

"Those nine Twitter accounts are not linked to me. They've done it clearly from major pressure from Sinn Fein. All they ever did was RT some tweets from the Barbara Pym accounts.

"I'm not sorry. All my life, I've been consistent in thinking that SF is a malignant force unless you stand up to it. Most Irish journalists will not stand up to it, this is the first time I've been asked by RTE in a long time. If Sean O'Rourke rang me, I was in trouble.

"I can't help it if other people are offended. I'm not apologising to anyone. I would deny them as abusive tweets. Anybody that goes onto that account, would see that as a benign account that is not tweeting abuse at people, it's tweeting criticism and they deserve it as they are SF pawns."