'Ask them to leave' Australian minister says of people with Irish accents

Marlene Kairouz apologised for comments linking Irish accents to travelling conmen

Launching an awareness campaign about conmen who target elderly people in Melbourne, minister for consumer affairs Marlene Kairouz said, “If anybody knocks on your door that has an Irish accent, automatically ask them to leave”. Video: 9News

 

A government minister in Australia has apologised for comments that “caused offence to people with Irish heritage”, after she warned homeowners not to open their doors to people with Irish accents.

Launching an awareness campaign about travelling conmen who target elderly people in Melbourne, minister for consumer affairs Marlene Kairouz said “if anybody knocks on your door that has an Irish accent, automatically ask them to leave”.

The campaign video, shown on Nine News in Melbourne, features 79-year-old Thelma, who was scammed into paying $4,500 to tradesmen to fix a leak in her roof. She alleges they made off with her money after doing work of a very poor quality.

According to Nine News reporter Brett McLeod, “Thelma claims the men who ripped her off had Irish accents, which is a common feature of a lot of these scams”.

Social media outrage

Irish people living in Australia have been voicing their outrage on social media. A post labelling her comments as “blatant racism” on the Irish Around Sydney Facebook group, which has more than 40,000 members, has received 160 replies.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Ms Kairouz apologised for her “poor choice of words”.

“I made a comment at a scam awareness campaign launch that caused offence to people with Irish heritage,” she said.

“Recent scammers have been backpackers from the UK and Ireland and I was giving this info to the public. I admit I delivered this msg (sic) poorly… I sincerely apologise for causing offence and my poor choice of words.”

Speaking in the Parliament of Victoria on Wednesday, Michael O’Brien, an Irish-born MP, described the report on Channel 9 as “disturbing”.

“There is a very large and distinguished expatriate Irish community in this state. That is why it is very important that the contribution of the Irish to this state is properly recognised,” he said.

“Those comments were disgraceful. The minister has slurred many Irish people, and the Irish community in this state are rightly upset.”

He called on Ms Kairouz to “make a heartfelt and genuine apology to people who have been offended by those inconsiderate, wrong and baseless remarks”, not just on social media but on the 6 o’clock news or in the chamber.

President of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce Fergal Coleman, a consultant based in Melbourne, said he “would expect more of a minister in a leadership position”.

“If you knocked on the door of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, we would welcome you without judgement and you would meet hard working Irish Australians who deserve more than the negative stereotype you have offered,” he said.

Twenty-six Irish nationals were deported from western Australia in 2015 after seven were arrested in connection with a roofing scam targeting elderly people in Perth.

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