Rob Heffernan: Tweet among my biggest mistakes

His “biggest mistake since Moscow” is how world race walking champion Rob Heffernan has described the controversial tweet that led to him being branded a racist after he made an ill-advised tweet about the Roma community.

During a candid interview on RTÉ radio yesterday, Heffernan said his comment that Roma people should be “shipped out” was an unthinking kneejerk response to reports that gardaí had removed two children from their Roma families amid suspicions they had been kidnapped — suspicions that later proved unfounded.

“I reacted to thinking a child was kidnapped and it was stupid and I never read all the facts and I threw it out and I apologised,” said Heffernan.

The Corkman’s wife and manager Marion, who also featured on the radio show, said she felt her husband was treated unfairly and that he was not a racist. Heffernan said the reality was he had very good friends in different communities all over the world, built up through training. His thoughtless outburst had led to sleepless nights, he said, but at the end of the day he was “only human”.

“We all make mistakes. People need to get over it now and move on,” said Heffernan, admitting the backlash against him had caught him off guard.

“I was just surprised that people were ready to tear me down and have pops off me. You know, I apologised and I was very, very sorry for it,” he said.

The lesson he took from the controversy was that as a public figure, he had to be more responsible in his actions, he said.

Although the whole experience had been a negative one, it had the effect of refocusing his mind on what he was good at, he said.

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