Monday 20 January 2020

Racism storm grows for FF senator as new Twitter slurs emerge

Fianna Fail’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee wiped her twitter history. Photo: Sam Boal
Fianna Fail’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee wiped her twitter history. Photo: Sam Boal

Tweets have emerged of Fianna Fail senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee repeatedly using the word 'pikey' - a deeply offensive term to members of the Travelling community.

Ms Clifford-Lee, has been under fire in recent days over a series of old tweets that show her using the words "knacker" and "Traveller" in a derogatory manner and referring to a Dublin nightclub as a "sluts venue".

The Herald can reveal that Ms Clifford-Lee, who is running in the Dublin-Fingal by-election, also used the word "pikey" on three separate occasions on Twitter in 2011.

The senator was a member of the Fianna Fáil ard comhairle when she wrote "what an absolute pikey" in response to a post by reality television star Katie Price on April 1, 2011.

In another post on June 29 that same year, she wrote: "Cheryl has new hair colour and has gotten rid of the pikey extensions at long last. Yawn. Why do people find this woman interesting!?"

A few days later on July 1 2011, she wrote on Twitter: "I actually like it. So glad the pikey extensions are gone."

In response to queries about the tweets Fianna Fail reissued a statement from yesterday where it said Ms Clifford-Lee "wrote these tweets in a personal capacity many years ago".

The party said it did not condone the "inappropriate" tweets but would be taking no further action against its Seanad spokesperson on justice, equality and children.

'Pikey' is one of the most offensive terms used to describe Travellers.

The BBC launched an investigation when the word was used in the motoring show Top Gear in 2015.

Actor Orlando Bloom also sparked controversy when he used the word in reference to himself during an interview on the BBC in 2017.

Ms Clifford-Lee did not respond to a request for comment. She has not spoken publicly since issuing an apology for tweets that emerged last weekend, but in the last 24 hours she has wiped her Twitter profile of all previous tweets.

Earlier, the leaders of several Traveller representative groups called for government reparations for decades of "top-down" racism after the emergence of the derogatory tweets.

Catherine Joyce of the Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group told an Oireachtas committee: "Prejudice and racism against Travellers seems to be the greatest and the most acceptable.

"It's one of the most acceptable forms of racism and it isn't being challenged, certainly there isn't a leadership approach in this country in terms of racism against Travellers.

"From a top down perspective, we've seen again tweets coming out from people wanting to be filling these political spaces was, in terms of Travellers, incredibly racist and that has followed on from many, many examples over the years."

Patrick Nevin from Tallaght Traveller Community Development called for reparations from the State for racism.


"Until the Irish State and those in the positions accept that they created that... the only way forward is for the State to take ownership, acknowledge it, and reparations," he said.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan said the party's Dublin Fingal by-election candidate needs to "build bridges" with Travellers' rights organisations.

Mr O'Callaghan said her comments were "offensive, particularly to Travelling people" but that his colleague has apologised and they do "not reflect her current thinking".

He said it would be beneficial if she met with Pavee Point.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said Ms Clifford-Lee needed to apologise.

Education Minister Joe McHugh said Ms Clifford-Lee said that social media can be used as a weapon and added: "In this instance, it was used as a weapon and it's totally inappropriate."

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