'The Irish don't get satire' says professor behind 5.5 million Hong Kong 'plantation' in Northern Ireland
The British professor who sparked a bizarre plan to relocate 5.5 million people from Hong Kong to Northern Ireland said he was not surprised that some took it seriously as "the Irish have no sense of humour".
Christie Davies, a sociology professor at the University of Reading, said his article written in a Belfast newspaper in 1983 was never meant to be taken seriously.
“At the time, the piece was well received in Hong Kong, but it was recognized as humorous,” he told the New York Times.
“[But] the Irish do not understand satire and have no sense of humor so I guess some of them took it seriously.”
In the piece ‘Ulster to adopt Hong Kong?’, Mr Davies suggested relocating Hong Kong wholesale to Northern Ireland to boost its stagnant economy.
He wrote in The Belfast News Letter about creating a new city-state that would “save the finest example of the capitalistic system from extinction.”
The article caught the eye of George Fergusson, a junior official in the Northern Ireland Office, who forwarded it to colleague David Snoxell saying: "At this stage we see real advantages in taking the proposal seriously."
Among the benefits, Mr Fergusson suggested, it would help convince the unionist population that the government in Westminster was truly committed to retaining Northern Ireland in the UK.
“If the plantation were undertaken, it would have evident advantages in reassuring Unionist opinion of the open-ended nature of the Union,” he said.
Speaking to the BBC however, Mr Snoxell said he was shocked that people were taking the exchange seriously.
“It was a spoof between colleagues,” he said. “You can see it wasn’t intended seriously.”
“Sadly, it’s impossible to make jokes like this anymore. The diplomatic service has lost its sense of humour,” added the former official with the Republic of Ireland Department of the British Foreign Office.
Mr Snoxell said the exchange was intended to "relieved some of the tension" amongst officials in Northern Ireland, which was on heightened alert following hunger strikes by republican prisoners.
The letters, released by the British National Archives last week, show the officials joke about resettling 5.5 million Hong Kong people to a new “city-site” built between Coleraine and Derry in Northern Ireland ahead of the, then, British colony's 1997 return to China.