SEANAD leader Mary O'Rourke was last night in hot water after saying some of her campaign helpers had worked "like blacks". She used the phrase while thanking her campaign workers for getting her selected for the third spot on the Fianna Fail general election ticket for Longford-Westmeath.
and Gene McKenna
SEANAD leader Mary O'Rourke was last night in hot water after saying some of her campaign helpers had worked "like blacks".
She used the phrase while thanking her campaign workers for getting her selected for the third spot on the Fianna Fail general election ticket for Longford-Westmeath.
Her 'blacks' comment drew loud groans from the crowd.
Asked afterwards what she meant, an obviously taken aback Mrs O'Rourke said: "I just meant that they worked very hard."
Last night there was surprise at her comments given her excellent record on immigration issues.
Even her sharpest critics conceded that she would not have intended any offence.
They said she had most likely used a phrase which was in common usage in a different decade.
Nonetheless, the Residents against Racism said they were deeply upset by the comments and found them "deeply offensive".
Spokesperson Rosanna Flynn called on her to apologise.
"I am really surprised at her. It is very offensive to a lot of people," she said. "It's a real gaffe."
Peter O'Mahoney, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said: "The use of such language is ill advised."
But he added that Mrs O'Rourke was "one of a relatively small number of national politicians who are fairly brave on refugee issues".
Fine Gael's Jim O'Keeffe said it was not a wise way to express herself in this day and age.
Labour's Michael D Higgins said: "I don't think she had any insulting intention at all." But he added: "People have moved on and there is a language that we used before when people were not so well informed."
Senator O'Rourke's nephew, Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Conor Lenihan, was in a storm of controversy last May after his infamous "kebab" gaffe.
Mr Lenihan, a TD for Dublin South West, was forced to apologise for what was widely regarded as a jibe at Turkish workers during the course of a heated and hotly contested Dail debate. Mrs O'Rourke scraped through a tense selection convention by nine votes, defeating her sole opponent Cllr Kevin 'Boxer' Moran by 48 to 39.
They had both conducted a high-intensity campaign for weeks as they fought a tough struggle for the vital deciding votes.
The senator said after her victory that herself and Cllr Moran had conducted a "harmonious" campaign, adding: "Would you believe it!"
There was loud laughter and shouts of 'no' from some of the delegates who also groaned when she spoke of the hardcore of her helpers in the campaign working "like blacks".
In her victory speech, she spoke of Fianna Fail as "the Republican party", despite the claims of other parties in that regard.
The party's National Constituencies Committee had decided in advance of the convention that sitting TDs Peter Kelly, in the Longford area, and Donie Cassidy, in the northern end of the Westmeath district, would be put on the ticket unopposed.
This left the two Athlone candidates, Sen O'Rourke and Cllr Moran, in a straight contest to join them in the Dail race.
Mrs O'Rourke (68) has been itching to get back into the Dail after her sensational defeat in the 2002 general election in what was then the Westmeath constituency.
Mr Cassidy, himself then a senator, beat her for the second Fianna Fail seat after a bitter and bruising campaign which left a huge residue of anger in the O'Rourke camp.
Mrs O'Rourke's victory sets the scene for a battle royal between O'Rourke and Cassidy.