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Taoiseach: Councillor 'accepts fully' she was wrong about Traveller accommodation comment

Varadkar criticised Fianna Fáil’s failure to discipline senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for her past tweets.

Emer Higgins is Fine Gael councillor and by-election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.
Emer Higgins is Fine Gael councillor and by-election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.
Image: Niall Carson/PA

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has defended his party colleague, Emer Higgins, who expressed her “delight” after plans for a Traveller housing scheme in her area were scrapped in 2014. 

Higgins, a Fine Gael councillor and by-election candidate for Dublin Mid-West, wrote a letter to constituents in 2014 boasting that a proposed traveller accommodation scheme would not be going ahead. 

“I am delighted to announce that the council are no longer considering purchasing these houses off the developer for development as a Traveller accommodation scheme. This was confirmed to me today by council,” the letter read. 

Speaking to reporters today, Varadkar said he spoke to Higgins about the 2014 letter last night. 

“This was an issue back in 2014, she accepts fully that she was wrong to use the word ‘delighted’ about that decision not to go ahead with that accommodation.

“There’s nothing new to say, this issue arose years ago and I dealt with it then,” Varadkar said. 

When asked about tweets sent out by Fianna Fáil senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Varadkar described them as racist, misogynistic and classist. 

Clifford-Lee has come under fire over tweets she sent in the past in which she used the words “Traveller” and “knacker” in a negative sense.

The senator, who is a by-election candidate for Dublin Fingal, claimed that the tweets are being used as part of a smear campaign. 

Criticising Fianna Fáil for not disciplining Clifford-Lee, Varadkar said the opposition’s response was “inadequate”.  

“Those were tweets that were sent by a qualified solicitor, a woman in her 30s, a woman actively involved in Fianna Fáil at the time

I think just describing them as inappropriate isn’t enough, we should say what they were: misogynistic towards women, racist towards Travellers and classist, and also body shaming. I don’t think they are becoming of someone who is Fianna Fáil’s equality spokesperson.

“I’m not sure what it says about Fianna Fail’s commitment to equality,” Varadkar said. 

Cllr Emer Higgins has been contacted for comment. 

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