Yesterday’s late breaking news that the controversial right-wing newspaper columnist and so-called “revisionist” author Eoghan Harris has been sacked by his bosses for collaborating with a “group of people” to run a fake Twitter account known as “Barbara J Pym” to promote the political opinions of the aging British apologist clique in the Irish press and academia has shocked a lot of people. For decades Harris seemed to be one of the untouchables of the domestic media, lauded by conservative and reactionary opinion, deplored by liberals and progressives. I long ago described him as a “neo-unionist”, as he himself noted in one of his regular Sunday Independent columns, and I believe it to be a fair summation of his contribution to the intellectual and cultural life of this island nation. The allegation that the social media sock-puppet account he co-founded had been targeting public figures aligned to Sinn Féin and other left-of-centre parties or those deemed insufficiently anti-republican in their opinions provides strong evidence for that label.
According to a statement released on the Independent website::
“Long-time Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris will no longer be writing for the paper, with immediate effect.
The decision to terminate Mr Harris’s contract was taken by editor Alan English this week, after the former Senator admitted being involved in the running of an anonymous Twitter account set up in February 2020.
Mr Harris has been a trenchant critic of Sinn Féin for many years and has written extensively on Northern Ireland, among many other subjects. His columns have also challenged readers to see the unionist perspective in relation to issues…
“However, his position as a columnist became untenable when Eoghan confirmed to us this week that he has had an involvement in the operation of a fake Twitter account.
“This account was set up in February 2020 under the name of Barbara J Pym, mostly posting tweets about aspects of Irish politics.
“Many of the views expressed – such as opposition to ‘Sinn Féin pressure for a united Ireland’ are in keeping with those articulated by Eoghan Harris in his Sunday Independent column.
“Eoghan has accepted that he was one of the founders of the account. He has also stated to me that he was ‘one of a group of people that contributed to a Barbara Pym entity’.
Since the publication of the statement above a number of individuals have come forward to describe the online abuse they suffered at the hands of the “Barbara J Pym” account, including the newspaper correspondent Aoife Moore of the Examiner.
The question now remains, who are the anonymous “group of people” that Eoghan Harris conspired with to manage the fake account? Are they also active in the media or in politics? And will they also be named and shamed?
Update: Twitter has now suspended nine accounts allegedly associated with the Harris group.