Fine Gael: Councillor’s Traveller claims not party position

Fine Gael: Councillor’s Traveller claims not party position
FG by-election candidate Emer Higgins

Fine Gael councillor and by-election candidate Emer Higgins’ comments on Travellers are not reflective of the party’s position, senior party figures have said.

The party came in for criticism yesterday from some Fianna Fáil TDs who accused it of double standards in seeking to embarrass senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee when its own candidate had expressed what they called anti-Traveller views.

Speaking to this newspaper, the Fianna Fáil TDs said it was “disgraceful” that Fine Gael people would seek to heap pressure on Ms Clifford-Lee when one of its own ministers, Josepha Madigan, had also welcomed the cancellation of a Traveller scheme in Mount Merrion in 2014.

Ms Higgins has come in for considerable criticism from Traveller representative groups and political opponents, and now senior members of her own party have criticised her actions.

It has emerged Ms Higgins, a Fine Gael councillor and Dublin Mid-West by-election candidate, boasted and expressed her “delight” at a Traveller housing scheme being scrapped in her area in a 2014 letter to constituents.

Social Democrats candidate in the by-election Ann Marie McNally accused her rival of engaging in the politics of “hate and discrimination”.

On social media, she appealed to voters to reject such candidates.

“If you’re (as all decent people are) outraged by this then help me fund my campaign against this candidate. FG are pumping unending money into getting this person elected. Help me provide an alternative to the politics of hate and discrimination,” she said of the Irish Examiner’s story about Cllr Higgins.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee

Several senior ministers, speaking privately, said Ms Higgins was wrong to have used such personalised language in her letter.

“She has apologised but it was clearly wrong and not appropriate. It is not what this party stands for,” said one senior minister.

Ms Higgins wrote a letter to residents in her area in April 2014 and described the decision of South County Council not to proceed with a 10-house Traveller housing scheme in Ballynakelly as a “victory for the community”.

Another said that the uncovering of the letter was “most unfortunate” as she is seen as the party’s best hope of retaining one seat in the four by-elections.

In a statement to the Irish Examiner, Ms Higgins said she apologised for offence caused by her comments.

“My language was insensitive and did upset people and I apologised for that at the time,” she said.

“Straight up, this was about the council moving forward with new plans in an estate which hadn’t even met the conditions of the first scheme.

“In 2014, when the country was littered with unfinished ghost estates and negative equity, distressed mortgages and repossessions were a big fear in my area,” she said.

“My language was insensitive and did upset people and I apologised for that at the time,” she said.

The letter, being circulated on social media last night, was dated Friday 4th April 2014 and heralded the decision of Dublin South County Council not to proceed with a 10-house Traveller Housing scheme in Ballynakelly.

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