Micheál Martin goes canvassing with Senator in hot water over derogatory comments
Fianna Fáil leader says Lorraine Clifford Lee will be apologising directly to Pavee Point over tweets
Fianna Fáil byelection candidate Lorraine Clifford Lee has been embroiled in controversy in recent days over tweets she posted in 2011 in which she used words such as “knacker” and “pikey”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said party Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee will be “apologising directly” to traveller representative group Pavee Point for derogatory comments she made about their community.
Mr Martin, however, has backed Ms Clifford Lee’s campaign in the Dublin Fingal byelection following calls for her to step down.
The Fianna Fáil leader spent Wednesday evening canvassing with Ms Clifford Lee in Donabate, Co Dublin, hours after she handed in her nomination papers for the November 29th contest.
Ms Clifford Lee has been embroiled in controversy in recent days over tweets she posted in 2011 in which she used words 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.
In a statement, Mr Martin said Ms Clifford Lee, the Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on justice in the Seanad, is “genuinely sorry for the comments she made on Twitter many years ago.
“Since she became elected as a Senator in 2016, she has conformed with all party polices on diversity and equality.
“She has worked hard for the people of Dublin Fingal since 2016 and wants to become their TD so that she can make a difference on everyday issues that face people.
“Lorraine is getting a positive reception when she is knocking on doors and meeting people and she will work very hard over the next few weeks to prove to them she would make a great TD.”
He also said he believes that “everyone should get a second chance”.
“Lorraine will be apologising directly to Pavee Point on Friday when she meets them to discuss all the issues that are impacting on the travelling community.”
Martin Collins, of Traveller advocacy group Pavee Point, described the comments as “not just inappropriate, they are racist.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Dr Sindy Joyce, a human rights activist and academic, said Ms Clifford Lee should stand down over the Twitter posts. Dr Joyce said that while the messages were posted years ago, Ms Clifford Lee “was still a 30-year-old woman” who was a solicitor and member of the Fianna Fáil national executive at the time.
“I am disgusted at her comments, I think she should step down and I think to have public representatives in positions that represent communities shouldn’t have attitudes like that,” she told RTÉ’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan programme.
“Pikey is used particularly in the UK whereas knacker is used particularly in Ireland. They are racial terms that refer to the community as inferior.”
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan also condemned Ms Clifford Lee’s tweets and said they were “totally and utterly unacceptable”.
“I know she apologised but these are matters of grave seriousness,” he said. “They do show a certain disposition, which to my mind, has no place in Irish society. People need to be careful and politicians needs to show leadership on the matter.”