The Irish community is demanding that London mayor Boris Johnson apologize for ridiculing remarks he made about the city's St Patrick's Day gala dinner and celebrations, which ran from 2002 to 2008.
The mayor linked the celebrations to Sinn Fein, calling it "lefty crap." His remarks were branded as "lazy and stupid," according to the Irish Independent.
The controversial mayor's comments come less than three months ahead of the city's mayoral election.
In an interview to the ‘New Statesman’ newspaper he said: “. . . And I'll tell you what makes me angry. . . spending £20,000 (€24,000) on a dinner at the Dorchester (hotel) for Sinn Fein.”
Irish community leader in London, Shelagh O'Connor, from Kerry, said the mayor's comments were extremely disrespectful.
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“They reflect an era that we thought had passed and an era when Irish people in London faced discrimination and were the butt of jokes. We deserve more respect. It makes me very angry and I feel Boris should apologise,” she said.
Christine Quigley, a Labour candidate for the upcoming London Assembly elections, said that Johnson's comments were baseless.
“Boris’s lazy and stupid remark is utterly factually wrong. The fact is the annual St Patrick's Day event he refers to was a self-financing community event attended by a wide range of Irish actors and politicians from many parties, community figures and celebrities, including Bob Geldof, the Irish Ambassador, Dermot O'Leary, Richard Corrigan, and Pauline McLynn. It did not cost the taxpayer £20,000 and it was not a Sinn Fein event," said Quigley, who is originally from Dublin.
Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Vernon Coaker said Johnson's comments were “ill-judged, inaccurate and offensive."
The St Patrick's Day gala dinners, which were backed by the mayor's office under Ken Livingstone for six years, came to an abrupt end when Johnson came to office in 2009.
The proceeds raised from the sales of tickets to the black-tie dinners and sponsorship covered the costs with any monies left over given to an Irish community charity in London and also towards the costs of the city's St Patrick's Day parade and festival.
An open letter criticizing the mayor's comments and signed by many London-based Irish personalities such as restaurateur and chef Richard Corrigan and actor Adrian Dunbar was sent to the ‘Guardian’ newspaper.
Said a spokesman for Johnson, “The mayor does not believe he was elected to organize exclusive and expensive dinners at the Dorchester Hotel . . . He appreciates and admires the Irish like every other community in this wonderful cosmopolitan capital.”
The Irish Embassy in London has declined to comment.