Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has admitted his 2011 general election campaign used students posing as pollsters from a fictitious company to gauge public opinion in his constituency.
The students, who were given fake business cards with the name ‘Political Research Association of Ireland’, were largely drawn from Young Fine Gael circles and tasked with knocking on doors around the Dublin West constituency as part of Varadkar’s re-election bid to the Dáil.
One student volunteer said they were promised €50 each for their work, but were never paid.
Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said: “Since 2016, all polling carried out by the Fine Gael party has been done through market research companies and private contractors.
“Prior to that, constituencies including Dublin West asked volunteers or paid students to carry out surveys. However, this practice was discontinued as it was considered no longer to be appropriate.
“People asked to take part in the survey were told that the purpose was a political opinion poll and consent was sought to take part. The surveys or sample ballot papers were anonymised. No names or personal data was recorded or retained.”
Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have all admitted in recent days to using fake polling companies on the doorsteps in the past.
The Green Party said on Wednesday night that they may have used fake market research companies in “isolated incidents”, in a week that saw Independent.ie reveal Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó’Broin had sent supporters posing as pollsters from a fictitious company to the doors of his constituency during his first general election victory in 2016.
“This is a common part of election practices,” Ó’Broin told Newstalk.
“It’s a standard practice in political party activity. I am aware of many instances in my own constituency where larger parties have done exactly the same thing, this is standard practice, if people knew how much a professional opinion poll costs,” he said.
Fine Gael’s Dublin Bay South by-election candidate James Geoghegan has also admitted to polling for Renua in 2016, without disclosing that he was acting for the party on the doorsteps, whilst Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said it was a “fairly common practice”, admitting it happened in his constituency but insisting it “wasn’t anything sinister”.
Whilst Fianna Fáil said fake pollsters were used prior to 2007, having previously denied using them at all, former party leader Bertie Ahern yesterday said the admission was incorrect.
“I remember clearly polling done and organised by our staff in headquarters,” Ahern told RTÉ.
“But it was never done on the basis of fake marketing companies. It was done by Fianna Fáil activists on a Saturday morning, but not doing it in the name of a marketing company,” he said.