CONTROVERSIAL London mayor Boris Johnson was at the centre of a row last night after he ridiculed the city’s St Patrick’s Day gala dinner celebrations, which ran between 2002 to 2008, linking them to Sinn Fein and branding it "lefty crap".
The Irish community demanded Mr Johnson apologise for his remarks, claiming they were “lazy and stupid”.
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 for Sinn Fein.” Irish community leader in London, Shelagh O'Connor, from Kerry, said Mr Johnson's comments were extremely disrespectful.
“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.
And Christine Quigley, who is a Labour candidate for the upcoming London Assembly elections and originally from Dublin, said the mayor's comments were baseless.
She said: “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.”
The gala dinners, backed by the mayor's office under Ken Livingstone for six years, came to an abrupt end when Mr Johnson came to office in 2009.
The proceeds raised from the sales of tickets to the dinners and sponsorship covered 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.
Invited guests at the black-tie event over the years also included the former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton. An open letter criticising Mr Johnson's comments was sent to the ‘Guardian’ newspaper and signed by London-based Irish personalities such as restaurateur and chef Richard Corrigan and actor Adrian Dunbar.
When contacted by the Irish Independent a spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “The mayor does not believe he was elected to organise 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 on Mr Johnson's remarks, which come less than three months ahead of the city's mayoral election.