Disquiet over German ambassador's remarks

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed it expressed its strong disquiet to the German ambassador for remarks he made…

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed it expressed its strong disquiet to the German ambassador for remarks he made to a group of visiting German industrialists in which he described Ireland as a "coarse place" where hospital waiting lists were chaotic and everyone drove '06 and '07 cars.

The department's secretary general, Dermot Gallagher, telephoned the ambassador, Christian Pauls, last week and told him the unscripted comments he made on September 7th were "misinformed and inaccurate".

A department spokesman confirmed to The Irish Times yesterday that Mr Gallagher was asked by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, to tell the ambassador of his unhappiness at the "unbalanced picture he painted of Ireland" to the 80 businessmen, all members of the German Federation of Buying and Marketing Groups, at Clontarf Castle in Dublin.

Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell, who was at the event, said he was shocked at what he heard.

"The ambassador should grow up. What he said was very undiplomatic and his contribution was somewhere between resentment and spite," he said. "He should not get away with what he said. I was totally taken aback."

However, Mr Mitchell said he would not go as far as calling for Mr Pauls to make an apology.

The press attaché at the German embassy in Dublin, Reinold Herber, told The Irish Times yesterday he was unable to contact the ambassador.

"I cannot say if he regrets his comments as I have not spoken to him about them. Sometimes he tends to be ironic and maybe they were meant to be ironic comments. He is a nice and polite man who is also a witty man.

"I don't think he would insult the Irish people with his remarks. That would not be his intention," he added, and said that he did not know if Mr Pauls intended to apologise for his remarks.

Mr Pauls was due to introduce speakers, including Mr Mitchell, at the opening of the meeting with the German businessmen. He spoke in German to the gathering and his comments were translated into English for the small number of Irish people there, including Mr Mitchell.

During his address, the ambassador referred to Ireland's wealth, saying Ministers of State earn more that the German chancellor, and 20 per cent of the population were public servants.

In a reference to negotiations over hospital consultant contracts, he said doctors who were offered salaries of €200,000 a year had described the salary as "Mickey Mouse money". Mr Mitchell said last night they were the only words the ambassador said in English and that the audience laughed at the comments.

Mr Mitchell said Mr Pauls also criticised the Government's immigration policy, saying Ireland learned nothing from Germany's experiences. He told a story about attending the National Concert Hall when an announcement was made for the owner of a 93D-registered car to move it. He said no one moved as all Irish cars are '06 and '07.

He said that US visitors had stopped coming to Ireland because of the heavy traffic and that Ireland has a bleak time in the past due to the Famine and had a history "sadder than Poland". Mr Pauls said a house had sold in Clontarf for over €20 million and one could buy a skyscraper for that in Frankfurt.

He left the hotel as soon as he finished speaking. Mr Mitchell, who spoke after Mr Pauls, told the audience he would have had more respect for what he said if he had made comments about the Government rather than about Irish people. He added Mr Pauls' view of Ireland might have been different if he had been here when the country was poorer.