Fianna Fáil Senator willing to meet Travellers after derogatory tweets

‘I’ve apologised and I am extremely sorry’, said Lorraine Clifford Lee

Lorraine Clifford-Lee  said  the tweets were “totally inappropriate” and “wrong”, adding that she is “very sorry for offending people”.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Lorraine Clifford-Lee said the tweets were “totally inappropriate” and “wrong”, adding that she is “very sorry for offending people”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A Fianna Fáil Senator has said she is willing to meet representatives of the Travelling community to apologise for tweets she posted which were derogatory about Travellers.

Lorraine Clifford Lee, who is standing for the party in the upcoming Dublin Fingal byelection, posted a number of tweets in 2011 in which she used terms such as “knacker” and “pikey”.

One tweet said her car had been “stolen by some knacker” while another, on fashion, said “some pieces are cute but others look like something from a traveller wedding”.

Others used terms about celebrities such as “absolute pikey” and referenced “pikey extensions” to the hair of pop star Cheryl Cole.

Speaking on Wednesday, Ms Clifford Lee, her party’s justice spokeswoman in the Seanad, told the Irish Examiner: “It was way before I was involved in electoral politics, and in no way reflects my attitude, and my true attitude to minority issues is reflected in what I have done and what I have had to say since I was in a position to influence things.”

She said the tweets were “totally inappropriate” and “wrong”, adding that she is “very sorry for offending people”.

“And looking back now I am horrified because at the time I had no understanding of their impact. You know, I’ve apologised and I am extremely sorry from the bottom of my heart but I guess I can do no more than that.”

She faced calls from within her own party to rebuild bridges with the Traveller community by meeting the representative group Pavee Point. Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty also suggested that she should meet Pavee Point.

Ms Clifford Lee said: “Absolutely, I would love an opportunity to meet face to face and apologise face to face.”

Martin Collins of Pavee Point said the organisation is willing to meet Ms Clifford Lee “and other representative in order to give the Traveller perspective and highlight the impact of discrimination and racism on the day to day lives of Irish Travellers”.

“This would be the first time Senator Clifford Lee has contacted us directly in relation to her justice and equality work.

“Senator Clifford Lee’s attitudes highlight how necessary the Traveller voice is in the political sphere,” Mr Collins said. He also repeated his call for a Traveller to be appointed to the Seanad.

Jim O’Callaghan, the Fianna Fáil justice spokesman, said: “I think she will need to build bridges with people such as Pavee Point. There is a task ahead of her to rebuild those bridges.”