Heffernan Roma tweet causes shock
Athlete apologises for posting comment on Twitter
Robert Heffernan: “It was stupid out of me not to read the whole story. What came to mind was Madeleine McCann, a child being kidnapped. I was stupid and it was very ignorant out of me and I want to apologise.” Photograph: Frank Miller
An activist with the Roma community in Cork said she was “shocked and disheartened” by an offensive tweet regarding the community posted by world champion athlete Robert Heffernan.
The world 50km walk champion has subsequently apologised for posting the comment on Twitter after gardaí removed two Roma children from their parents on unfounded suspicions.
Speaking to RTÉ News the Cork athlete described his tweet as a knee-jerk reaction.
“It was stupid out of me not to read the whole story. What came to mind was Madeleine McCann, a child being kidnapped. I was stupid and it was very ignorant out of me and I want to apologise,” he said.
Gina Iordan, a Romanian UCC PhD student who runs a Roma support group, says incidents such as this highlight the racism experienced by members of the community.
“It is quite shocking the terms being used on Twitter and it is not just the one person. It also shows how the media fuel this anti-Roma sentiment. The media needs to be careful. I am very disheartened.”
Search for acceptance
Ms Iordan said members of the Roma community in Cork were trying to prove they could make a meaningful contribution to society.
“Members of the community in Cork are doing volunteer work cleaning up the river Lee. They are picking up wood and cutting it up to give to the elderly people in Blackpool in the city. All of the coverage about the Roma has been undermining. It is upsetting people who want to be accepted. People in the Roma community are afraid to even let their children out on the street now.”
She said it was particularly sad to see racism here given our history of being discriminated against as emigrants to the US and UK. “You would think there would be more understanding and compassion from Irish people.”