O’Rourke made the comment after being named the last of three Fianna F_il candidates to stand for the Longford-Westmeath seat in the upcoming General Elections alongside sitting TDs Peter Kelly and Donnie Cassidy. The veteran politician beat Athlone councilor Kevin “Boxer” Moran by just nine votes to secure the nomination, having lost her seat to him in 2002.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 500 people, O’Rourke thanked her team for their work throughout the campaign, saying: “They were there for me and they worked like blacks.”
The comment reportedly drew gasps and groans from the crowd. Residents against Racism spokesperson Rosanna Flynn criticized the remarks, describing them as “deeply offensive” in an interview with the Irish Independent, where she called on O’Rourke to apologize.
“I am really surprised at her,” Flynn said. “It is very offensive to a lot of people. It’s a real gaffe.”
Speaking on RTE’s Pat Kenny show last Monday, O’Rourke said the phrase “was meant in a complimentary fashion.
“There was absolutely no offense meant,” she said. “It is a well-known phrase in Ireland, but perhaps in a different Ireland it’s no longer relevant. Perhaps I should say ‘like Trojans’ but then would you be upsetting the Greeks or something, I don’t know.”
The former transport Minister pointed out the work she has done for immigrants facing deportation orders in her Athlone constituency, which included taking part in a march in the town to highlight their cause last August.
“I think they are very hard-working and I think they want to make their stake in the country and I do represent them a lot,” she said.
Peter O’Mahoney, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council described O’Rourke’s language as “ill-advised,” but also came to her defense. Saying she was “one of a relatively small number of national politicians who are fairly brave on refugee issues” in a media interview.