Wednesday 11 December 2019

Fianna Fáil senator's tweet about 'black Brazilian dwarf' was ableist - campaigner Sinéad Burke

‘Ableist’: Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee with writer and activist Sinéad Burke at an event in Dublin Castle
‘Ableist’: Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee with writer and activist Sinéad Burke at an event in Dublin Castle

Hugh O'Connell and Fionnán Sheahan

Writer, activist and broadcaster Sinéad Burke has criticised the Fianna Fáil senator who tweeted about a "black Brazilian dwarf with ginger hair" beside her on a bus.

Ms Burke - who was born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism, and is 3ft 5in in height - is also a contributing editor to 'Vogue UK'.

She said Lorraine Clifford-Lee's comments were "ableist" - the discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities. It comes as a picture has emerged of Ms Clifford-Lee posing with Ms Burke at an event in Dublin Castle.

The picture was posted on the Fianna Fáil by-election's candidate's Twitter account prior to her tweets being wiped after controversy over several of her posts from 2011 and 2012.

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Under pressure: Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Fianna Fáil’s Dublin Fingal by-election candidate.
Photo: Gerry Mooney
Under pressure: Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Fianna Fáil’s Dublin Fingal by-election candidate. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ms Clifford-Lee praised Ms Burke when she was appointed by 'Vogue UK' last year. "How amazing is Sinéad Burke?! Today it was announced that she is a new 'British Vogue' contributing editor. AH-MAZ-ING!," she wrote in a Facebook post.

Ms Burke said on Twitter that the comments about a "black Brazilian dwarf with ginger hair" sitting beside her on a bus were "ableist".

It came after the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Ms Clifford-Lee's tweets as "misogynistic towards women, racist towards Travellers, classist and also body shaming".

Contacted this week, Ms Burke declined to comment further.

Ms Clifford-Lee has apologised for using the words 'pikey' and 'knacker' in old tweets, along with other posts about reality TV star Kim Kardashian having a "fat arse" and about the Wright Venue, a nightclub in Swords, being a "slut's venue".

Ms Clifford-Lee, who was on Fianna Fáil's ruling national executive at the time she posted the tweets, faced calls to resign but she was backed by party leader Micheál Martin who retained her as a by-election candidate and the party's justice and equality spokesperson in the Seanad.

The embattled senator met with Pavee Point co-director Martin Collins yesterday in a bid to draw a line under the controversy.

Afterwards Mr Collins told RTÉ he accepted her apology. "She did give what I would regard as a very sincere, heartfelt apology and she has acknowledged the huge hurt and offence that she has caused our community, and she does recognise her tweets were of a racist nature. And, to be honest, that is really important."

Mr Collins said he would like more politicians to take this approach, saying many had made "atrocious, outrageous comments" without apologising. "Lorraine Clifford-Lee took a different approach, a more positive approach. She has put her hands up and acknowledged what she did was wrong," he said.

Ms Clifford-Lee earlier told RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' she didn't know if more derogatory comments made on Twitter or other social media platforms may emerge. "I don't know is the straight answer, because obviously this was a long time ago before I was engaged in electoral politics," she said. "I am very, very sorry for things I might have said back then."

Ms Clifford-Lee said her comments were posted before she was a candidate. "It was a long time ago and we all evolve as people and now I am a mother."

'WaterfordNow' reported this week that she unsuccessfully campaigned to be co-opted to a county council seat in her native Waterford in 2007 and attempted to get on to the Fianna Fáil local election ticket in the county in 2009 without success.

Mr Varadkar said on Thursday that the senator needed to apologise and to make a personal statement in the Seanad.

Ms Clifford-Lee is Fianna Fáil's by-election candidate in Dublin Fingal, where she is expected to be in the mix for a Dáil seat when the vote takes place on November 29.

Irish Independent

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