Additional reporting by Daniel McConnell
Ministers have called on Fianna Fail election candidate Lorraine Clifford-Lee to apologise directly to Travellers for controversial tweets and claimed the comments were used as a “weapon”. The Dublin-Fingal by-election candidate has gone to ground and not come out and addressed criticism about remarks she posted on social media several years ago.
These included when she Tweeted how a "black Brazilian dwarf with ginger hair" sat beside her on a bus. Other remarks she posted in 2011 included a reference to the word “knacker” and her suggestion that somebody was dressed “like something from a Traveller wedding."
While Ms Lee has apologised through the media, representatives from Pavee Point, which works with Travellers, said she should step down. Pavee Point co-director Martin Collins said Ms Clifford-Lee should not be “in public office”.
Opposition members and her own party colleagues have suggested the senator should meet the Travellers' group. Ministers called for a frank and open apology as well as for the party's Seanad justice spokeswoman to meet with Pavee Point.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty also said the Senator's tweet that the former Swords-based Wrights Venue was a "Sluts Venue" also required the Dublin-Fingal by-election candidate to come out and explain the comments and make a formal apology.
“I think she has been out talking about body image and I don't think that kind of really matches with sluts venue," Minister Doherty said.
Ms Clifford Lee needed to talk with Pavee Point, she said. Education Minister Joe McHugh also criticised the senator.
“Social media can be used as a weapon," the Education minister said. "And looking in this instance, it was used as a weapon, and it's totally inappropriate.”
Meanwhile, leading Fianna Fail figures also criticised Ms Clifford-Lee's remarks. The party's Justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan described the tweets as “silly” and “inappropriate” but said Senator Clifford-Lee should not lose her political career.
“I thought they were offensive, particularly to travelling people," he said. "However, she's apologised for those.
"I've got to say, having worked with her in the justice and equality area for the past three-and-a-half years, she has always advocated the line that Fianna Fáil has put forward in terms of inclusive diversity and equality. So she obviously made silly statements,” he added.