Monday, 9 Dec 2019

Senator to meet Travellers' rights group amid FF backing

Fianna Fáil TDs have rallied around embattled senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee after Micheál Martin urged them to move on from the controversy over her derogatory tweets.

The Fianna Fáil leader told his frontbench TDs earlier this week that the matter had been dealt with and urged them to move forward, with several deputies publicly defending Ms Clifford-Lee yesterday.

The Dublin Fingal by-election candidate has been under fire in recent days after old tweets emerged of her repeatedly using the word “pikey”, with other posts referencing “knacker” and “Traveller” in a derogatory manner and describing a Dublin nightclub as a “sluts venue”.

Ms Clifford-Lee, who is facing calls to resign from Travellers’ rights organisations, was already a long-serving member of Fianna Fáil’s ruling national executive when she posted the comments on Twitter in 2011.

In a show of support, Mr Martin went canvassing with Ms Clifford-Lee in Donabate, north Co Dublin, yesterday.

Afterwards he said that the senator would meet Pavee Point tomorrow and apologise directly. The Travellers’ rights organisation has led calls for the by-election candidate to stand down.

But Mr Martin backed Ms Clifford-Lee and insisted in a statement that “everyone should get a second chance”.

Her parliamentary party colleagues also went on the defensive yesterday.

Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said her colleague was wrong but had apologised.

Business spokesman Robert Troy said the party needed to move on.

“I’m sure we’ve all done it,” he said. “As people we evolve over time, we mature over time, and views that perhaps we held 10 years ago we wouldn’t hold today or wouldn’t say today.”

Mr Troy said there was a “clear difference” between what Ms Clifford-Lee had done and the ‘Votegate’ controversy which saw Mr Martin sack two TDs from his frontbench as “she wasn’t an elected representative”.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who is from a Traveller background, said words like “knacker” lead to a lack of self-esteem among Travellers and a “massive suicide problem” in the community. He said while he “wouldn’t be calling for a head”, Ms Clifford-Lee needs to meet with Travellers.

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