Mayor of London Boris Johnson has refused to apologise to the Irish community in Britain for negative comments made in relation to a London St Patrick’s Day event.
In a controversial interview with the New Statesman magazine this week, the Mayor of London said: “I’ll tell you what makes me angry…spending £20,000 on a dinner at the Dorchester (hotel) for Sinn Féin.”
The Mayor was referring to the annual St Patrick’s Day Gala Dinner, a black tie event that was cancelled by the Mayor’s office in 2009 to save money.
It was later resurrected by leading Irish business figure Sean Fitzpatrick of the VGC group having been promoted for six years by the previous mayor Ken Livingstone.
On Monday, the Mayor’s office was pressed on whether an apology would be offered in light of the remarks.
But a spokesperson for the mayor responded by saying that “they have nothing to add (to previous statements) and “it was about the use of public resources”.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office had previously said: “The Mayor does not believe that he was elected to organise exclusive and expensive dinners at the Dorchester hotel.”
As The Irish Post was going to press, his office contacted us again to “point out that the Mayor does support London’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.”
The latest comments arrive against a backdrop of growing calls for an apology by the Irish community and community leaders in Britain.
Vernon Coaker, Shadow Secretary for the North said: “Irish Londoners have made a huge contribution to the Peace Process in Northern Ireland and to building positive relations between the UK and Ireland. The St Patrick’s Day celebrations and all the work that Ken Livingstone did as Mayor played an important role in that. Boris Johnson’s comments are ill-judged, inaccurate and offensive.”
Pat Doherty from Sinn Féin told The Irish Post: “Boris Johnson’s comments show an ignorance in relation to the Irish community in Britain and the political developments between Britain and Ireland.”
London Assembly Labour Candidate and vice-chair of the Labour Party Irish Society, Christine Quigley added: “Boris should get his facts straight. The annual St Patrick’s Day event he refers to was a self-financing community event attended by a wide range of Irish actors, politicians from many parties, community figures and celebrities. It did not cost the taxpayer £20,000 and it was not a Sinn Féin event.”
While Sean Fitzpatrick, organiser of London’s St Patrick’s Day ball, said: “I think it is ill-conceived to make such a comment and totally untrue.”
The Irish Embassy in London said that “it would not be helpful,” to comment on the issue.
But a national newspaper in Ireland described Boris Johnson as “out of touch” in its editorial on Saturday.
In a general press statement Mr Johnson’s office said the mayor “appreciates and admires the Irish like every other community in this wonderful cosmopolitan capital.”
However, there will be no apology for the ridiculing remarks.
The Mayor’s comments have angered politicians, business figures, actors, restauranteurs and trade unionists, who all signed a letter published in the Guardian newspaper last Friday.
Among them were chef Richard Corrigan and actor Adrian Dunbar.
A recent Office for National Statistics estimate revealed that around 170,000 (2.2 per cent) of Londoners define themselves as Irish.
Mr Johnson’s remarks come less than three months ahead of the city’s Mayoral election on May 3.
For comment and full reaction from the Irish community in London on this story see this week’s Irish Post, out Wednesday, February 15.