Troll destroying: 'I'm no Shinner-bot,' says ex-party man traced by his victim
A FORMER Sinn Fein activist who used an anonymous Twitter account to abuse politicians, a businessman and celebrity Claudine Keane has insisted to the Sunday World: “I acted alone.”
Confronted at his home in Gorey, Co. Wexford, on Thursday, taxi driver and now resigned Sinn Fein member Paul Heffernan rejected claims by Tanaiste Leo Varadkar he was part of a ‘Shinnerbot’ phenomenon on Twitter .
The Tanaiste claimed that the party tolerated supporters abusing people from other parties.
Heffernan had used an account in the name of P O’Neill, a provisional IRA codename, to send derogatory social media messages to Fianna Fail Senator Malcolm Byrne, local businessman Derek Webb and to model Claudine Keane about her husband Robbie Keane.
In one message, he wrote to Mr Webb asking: “Are you that fat pig that cycles around Gorey in the Lycra with your man tits hanging out...I’m sure it’s you.”
Other tweets called him a “fat sloth lookalike clown”.
In another tweet, he asked him “did special school bring you up to Dublin for the day.”
In other Tweets, he shared a defamatory and completely untrue allegation against Senator Malcolm Byrne, while separately making unfounded and hurtful allegations against Claudine Keane.
Approached by the Sunday World at his home, Heffernan initially denied his own identity saying: “I don’t know who he (Paul Heffernan) is.”
“I think you’re Paul Heffernan,” our man responded.
“Well, who are you?” he asked in response.
After our reporter identified himself as a Sunday World journalist, Heffernan responded: “I’ve already made a statement.”
Our man persisted: “You apologised to Derek Webb, do you not also want to apologise to Claudine Keane and Malcolm Byrne?”
“I have apologised to everybody,” Heffernan responded.
Asked whether he had been encouraged to tweet at political rivals as part of an alleged Sinn Fein policy, Heffernan angrily denied this.
“That’s a ridiculous question,” he shot back.
Our man countered that the Tanaiste Leo Varadkar had publicly alleged this was Sinn Fein policy.
“What I did was off my own back, nobody forced me to do anything, I’ve no more comments to make, nothing else to say,” he said.
Earlier this week, in an interview with the Sunday World, Mr Webb, the businessman who was victimised anonymously by Heffernan and who subsequently turned detective in order to expose his true identity, said he has not made a formal complaint to gardai.
He said he feels Heffernan’s public shaming is ‘all the justice I need’.
“I had started to obsess a bit on the account,” the popular businessman and keen cyclist said.
“He started targeting me about five or six months ago. I'd never met the guy in my life … so the only reason I can think he came after me is I’m a Fine Gaeler and he’s Sinn Fein.
“Why me in particular? I can’t say.
“He engaged me on Facebook on one occasion and I blocked him because I found him to be, well, an a**ehole. And then it was pretty much straight away the abuse on Twitter started.
“I didn’t find out about it until a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine sent me a snapshot of his comments and jokingly asked: ‘who’s your friend?’
“I was up in Dublin that day and I’d tweeted about the traffic and he’d responded along the lines of: ‘Are you up there with the special needs because you’re only a big fat Down syndrome.”
“Initially I blocked him, but then a couple of nights later when I couldn’t sleep I went through his tweets and there was loads of this … and it wasn’t just me he was targeting other people as well.
“There was an unfounded allegation against Malcolm Byrne he shared and there were comments about Claudine Keane.
“So then I started going through his followers and who he followed, he followed 122 accounts and 47 of them were Sinn Fein and some of them were Saor Eire and local Twitter pages like ‘Love Gorey.’
“So then I read every single tweet and retweet and found inadvertently over the course of the years he’d given out clues about his identity, past jobs, he was a Shels fan and so on.
“And then when I had a good look at his profile picture, he was using someone else’s, I realised it was someone I knew.
“So I sent it to a few friends and they ID’d this person who was completely innocent. Then I went through this person’s social media and his friends. And by cross-referencing all the information I had against people on this man’s friends list, the one name kept coming back up again and again and again … Paul Heffernan.”
Increasingly confident he had identified the troll responsible, Derek then cross-referenced P O’Neill’s 1,947 tweets against Paul Heffernan’s Facebook posts going back five years – and found repeatedly pictures matching up from different locations during this period on both accounts.
Derek said after contacting gardai and being told it could take in excess of a year to carry out an IP address check on the P O’Neill Twitter account, he took matters into his own hands and rang Heffernan.
At an initial meeting between the pair, Heffernan denied being responsible but in a second meeting, after further damaging evidence emerged against him, Heffernan confessed.
“I put up a media post about what was happening and social media went wild about it. So wind forward to Friday and I met him up at the Apple Green service station and he came clean.
“He was a blubbering wreck … and I’ve been told since he’s resigned from the party.”
Asked about comparisons between himself and Coleen Rooney, who also turned detective on Twitter in a bid to expose the identity of someone leaking stories about her, Derek laughed: “Well, I don’t have the hair and I certainly don’t have the looks … straight up and you can quote me on that.
“The way I look at it is this … I’ve gotten justice now, I found out who he was, he’s apologised to my face, he knows he messed up and now he has to deal with the fact people know what he’s been up to.”
Sinn Fein Housing spokesman Eoin O Broin said that this week that if Paul Heffernan had not resigned from Sinn Fein he would have been “thrown out of the party”.
“This business of hiding behind anonymity, I think is cowardly. So if somebody was engaged in that kind of practice and left the party, I think the party is better for it,” Mr O Broin said.