Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee has said she is "very sorry" for using offensive language in Twitter posts a number of years ago.

The candidate in the Fingal by-election has met representatives of Pavee Point, a group promoting Traveller rights and apologised for the tweets she posted.

Speaking following the meeting, Senator Clifford-Lee said she was very sorry for the offence she caused and said she will be working with members of Pavee Point in the future to help their community.

Earlier, she told RTÉ News: "What happened back then was totally inappropriate and wrong and I'm very sorry for offending people. It was many years before I was engaged in electoral politics and in no way reflects my opinion on minority issues."

The comments which emerged earlier this week were posted on Twitter in 2011. Ms Clifford-Lee has been a senator since 2016 and is campaigning for a Dáil seat in the Dublin Fingal by-election on 29 November to fill the seat vacated by the MEP Clare Daly.

Other declared candidates include Dr James Reilly, who is running for Fine Gael, Ann Graves for Sinn Féin, Duncan Smith for Labour, Joe O'Brien for the Green Party and Independents Gemma O'Doherty, Glenn Brady, Sandra Sweetman, Cormac McKay, Charlie Keddy, and Peadar O'Kelly (Independents 4 Change). 

Ms Clifford-Lee told RTÉ News that the controversy over her Tweets was unexpected.

Lorraine Clifford-Lee has met representatives from Pavee Point

"As soon as it emerged I apologised and I’ve kept apologising and will continue to apologise because that’s all I can do," she said.

She added: "It doesn’t reflect who I am. It’s something that happened far before I was involved in electoral politics. Nevertheless I understand the offence I have caused."

Fianna Fáil leader Micháel Martin has accepted her apology and gave his firm backing to the Senator in the by-election. Ms Clifford-Lee told RTÉ News that he recognised the hard work she had done on minority issues in the Seanad.

Earlier this week the party said it did not plan to discipline Ms Clifford-Lee over the comments.

"I robustly defended the families at Cabragh Bridge in their dispute with Tipperary County Council.

"I supported the Traveller education bill, the granting of ethnic status to travellers, the Family Re-unification Bill which gave extra rights to undocumented families in Ireland, and I also supported marriage equality."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is disappointed with Fianna Fáil's response to the controversy.

Martin Collins from Pavee Point said he accepted the Senator's apology and acknowledged the fact she came to their offices to say sorry.

However, he also said that next year's General Election could be the most racist in tone yet.

Lorraine Clifford Lee this morning visited the offices of Pavee Point to apologise in person for the offensive tweets.

Speaking after the hour-long meeting, she said she was very sorry for the offence she caused.

She said her apology was heartfelt and she said she will be working alongside members of Pavee Point in the future to help their community.

Asked if it was a publicity stunt aimed at refocusing her campaign, she said it wasn't and said it was a private meeting.

Martin Collins from Pavee Point said he accepted the Senator's apology and acknowledged the fact she came to their offices to say sorry.

"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."

He said he would like more politicians take this approach of apologising directly to the Traveller community.

"Over the years many politicians from various political parties have made atrocious outrageous comments about Travellers and not only did they not apologise but in fact they dug the heels in and compounded the situation. 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 went on to say that he is overly concerned with the rise of right wing populism and nationalism and what it might bring to an election.

"I am really quite concerned about this upcoming general election which may take place in early spring or summer. I think it has the potential to be quite toxic and divisive and quite racist. And all the indications point towards that. I think its incumbent on the mainstream political parties to be vigilant and to ensure their membership do not engage in racist discourse." 

Additional reporting Conor Hunt