Traveller organisation urge politicians to learn from senator's offensive online remarks

Traveller organisation urge politicians to learn from senator's offensive online remarks

A Traveller organisation has urged politicians to learn from a Fianna Fáil senator who has apologised for offensive online remarks.

Lorraine Clifford-Lee, who is who is running for Fianna Fáil in the Dublin Fingal by-election, has been heavily criticised for Twitter posts made in 2011 in which she made insulting and derogatory remarks about Travellers.

Ms Clifford Lee has apologised in recent days, admitting the remarks were "totally inappropriate and wrong".

In the tweets, which were written before she became a Senator, Ms Clifford-Lee described the person who stole her car as "some knacker" and in another described some clothes as being "like something from a Traveller wedding".

Director of Pavee Point, Martin Collins and two of his colleagues met with the senator today after she sought a face-to-face meeting to offer her apology. Afterwards Mr Collins described the apology as “sincere and heartfelt”.

Mr Collins said: "Over the years many politicians from various political parties have made atrocious and outrageous racist comments about Travellers. Not only did they not apologise but they dug their heels in and compounded the situation.

Lorraine Clifford-Lee took a more positive approach, she put her hands up and acknowledged that she did wrong. Yes of course I would like to see more politicians take that approach.

Mr Collins said he feared a rise in right-wing populism, not just against his own community, but also against Nigerians and those living in direct provision. He also expressed concern that the next general election could be “toxic" and "divisive".

The campaigner said it is now incumbent on the main political parties to be "very vigilant" and to ensure that their members do not engage in racist discourse.

"I am convinced that there are politicians who make a very calculated assessment of the situation and unfortunately do see votes in articulating anti-Traveller racism, we are very concerned about that," said Mr Collins.

It comes after Independent TD Noel Grealish was criticised and accused of racism after he singled out the level of remittances being sent back to Nigeria and suggested that these could be the proceeds of fraud or criminality.

While Mr Collins said he has "no issue" around having debates and discussions, but he said certain parametres must be set to stop people engaging in "reckless, racist rhetoric".

Speaking ahead of today's meeting, Ms Clifford Lee said: "What happened back then was totally inappropriate and wrong and I am very sorry for offending people. It was many years before I was engaged in electoral politics and it in no way reflects my opinion on minority issues.

"I think sometimes we say things when we don't understand the impact of the words that we use," Ms Clifford Lee told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

She added that her "true attitude" can be seen in the work she has carried out since entering the Seanad. She said she had supported the Traveller Education Bill and the granting of ethnic status to Travellers.

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