FF leader apologises for Chinese gaffe


Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has apologised for attempting to adopt a Chinese accent at a technology industry meeting in Dublin this morning. The incident had prompted accusations of racism by Twitter and online forum users.

In a statement issued tonight, Mr Martin said he had made a comment "in a manner which I shouldn't have". He continued: "I was making a serious point about how Ireland is seen in the world as a leader in software. If anyone was in any way offended, I of course apologise."

During a meeting of the Dublin Web Summit, where he had been asked to outline his party's innovation policy, Mr Martin recalled a trade mission to China and Ireland's reputation among the Chinese for hosting software companies.

"Whenever I met Chinese ministers or officials, particularly as enterprise minister, there was one sort of overriding refrain from them or demand. And they kept on saying to me, [adopts foreign-sounding accent] you Irish, very good at software. [Reverts to his own accent.] And they identified Ireland as a software centre," he said.

An audio clip of the six-word gaffe recorded by Today FM was circulated online today, with links posted on Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere.

The YouTube link was given the title "Micheál Martin Channels David Brent with Chinese Accent", in reference to the cringeworthy boss from television comedy The Office. As of 5 pm today, Mr Martin's gaffe had been listened to more than 500 times on YouTube.

Some online commentators on the incident linked Mr Martin's accented re-enactment of his overseas conversation with his Fianna Fáil colleague Conor Lenihan's 2005 description of Turkish construction workers in the Dáil as "kebabs". Others felt it was not racist of him to attempt a Chinese accent, but that it was not appropriate for a former minister for foreign affairs and a would-be Taoiseach to do so.

Mr Martin is not the only party leader to have attracted controversy in relation to race. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny used the word "nigger" in connection with the assassinated prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, at a party function in 2002.