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'Hiding isn't going to make it go away': Fine Gael Ministers call on Clifford-Lee to apologise over social media comments

Lorraine Clifford-Lee has come under fire in recent days over controversial tweets she posted in the past.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee
Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

Updated Nov 12th 2019, 5:23 PM

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty has said embattled Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee should “come out head-on and admit she made a mistake” over controversial statements made on social media. 

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

A number of the tweets referred to Travellers, with one reading: “I think some pieces are cute but others look like something from a Traveller wedding.” 

Another tweet from July 2011 read: “Just doing up inventory of items in my car when it was stolen by some knacker. I think I’m going to cry.” 

A tweet from September 2011 said: “Was on #dublinbus for the 1st time in about a yr yesterday. Forgotten how much fun it is. A black Brazilian dwarf with ginger hair sat beside me.” 

Speaking today, Doherty said “hiding away is not going to make the situation go away” and that Clifford-Lee should apologise. 

Doherty’s comments were echoed by Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh who said this afternoon that Clifford-Lee used social media “as a weapon”. 

Said McHugh: “There’s a wide debate going on around how social media is handled. We constantly focus on young people and the younger generation but [social media] is not the preserve of younger people. 

“Social media can be used as a weapon and in this instance it was used as a weapon and it’s totally inappropriate.” 

Earlier today, Fianna Fáil’s Justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan said it would be “beneficial” for Clifford-Lee to meet with Pavee Point over the controversial comments she made about Travellers. 

Senator Clifford-Lee is a solicitor by profession and is the Deputy Leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad. She’s also the party’s Seanad spokesperson on Justice, Children and Youth Affairs. 

Clifford-Lee apologised yesterday for the tweets, stating: “The tweets referred to are from as far back as 2011 and were tweeted long before I became involved in electoral politics. 

I want to be absolutely clear, the tweets were wrong and I apologise for any hurt or offence caused by them. 

“Anyone who has worked with me since my election to the Seanad three years ago can confirm the role I played in promoting progressive politics. I also actively supported the marriage equality referendum and the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment,” she said.

Speaking to reporters today, O’Callaghan said it would be “beneficial” for Clifford-Lee to meet with Pavee Point, a Traveller support organisation. 

O’Callaghan said the Senator has “a task ahead of her” to “build bridges” with people, such as Pavee Point. 

He said that her tweets were “inappropriate” and “offensive, particularly to the Travelling people”. 

However, O’Callaghan said he doesn’t believe they reflect her “current thinking”. 

The Irish Times reported today that Pavee Point co-director Martin Collins said Clifford-Lee should not be “in public office”. 

When asked about Collins’ comments, O’Callaghan said: “I take on board very seriously what Martin Collins said and I agree with him that the comments she made displayed prejudice towards Travellers and were discriminatory. 

“However, she made those comments six, seven years ago. I know I believe in redemption, I believe in change … she’s apologised for them, she’s said they were wrong. 

I would just be concerned if because of something inappropriate that somebody said seven or eight years ago that their political career would end. 

In her statement yesterday, Clifford-Lee said that she hopes that the people of Dublin Fingal “will not be distracted” by what she called “personal smear campaigns such as this”.

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She also said that the tweets were “taken out of context”.

“I want to be a TD for the people of Dublin Fingal as I know the very real issues that people face every day,” she said. 

“I want this campaign to concentrate on solutions in transport, housing, health, childcare, climate change and protecting our communities from crime.”

Pavee Point and Lorraine Clifford-Lee have been contacted for comment. 

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