An article in an Australian newspaper suggesting Ireland uses potatoes for horse racing prize money has been described as "deeply offensive" by Ireland's Ambassador to Australia Noel White.
Writing in Herald Sun on Wednesday, journalist Matt Stewart said of the Melbourne Cup horse race, which had been run the previous day: "It's worth $6 million and they swarm from everywhere, from rich countries like Japan to countries offering up not much more than potatoes, like Ireland, to win it."
Mr White said the comment was deeply offensive to Irish people and Australians of Irish descent.
“This bizarre remark is at odds with Ireland’s role as a leading player in the global bloodstock industry,” he said. “The Irish horse-racing community enjoys excellent relations, based on mutual respect, with its counterparts here in Australia.
“Beyond that, and more importantly, it is deeply offensive to Irish people and to Australians of Irish descent. Mr Stewart should know better.”
Though it was not mentioned in the article, the horse that won the Melbourne Cup, Protectionist, is part-owned by three Sydney-based Irish families.
Monique Doyle, daughter of co-owners Fergie and Delia Doyle (originally from Wexford and Mayo respectively), was outraged by Mr Stewart's comment and wrote a letter to him, which she copied to Sydney's Irish Echo newspaper.
“After being paid a one way ticket to Australia by the Australian government to help boost the economy, [MY PARENTS]have since employed well over 400 people through their businesses started from scratch,” wrote Ms Doyle.
On his Twitter account, Mr Stewart addressed the furore over what he had written. “Apologies to the Irish! Did not mean to offend with ‘potato’ line in M Cup wrap. Only meant economy/race prizemoney struggling! Sorry!,” he wrote.
But Ms Doyle does not accept the apology. “Your brief Twitter apology did not wash well with the Irish community who deserve much more than that,” she said.
At the time of writing, Mr Stewart's article is still on the Herald Sun's website.
Mr Stewart said he was shocked by the response to his story.
“I am extremely surprised by the reaction,” he said in an email. “The ‘potatoes’ reference was an obviously flawed attempt to explain that while Japan’s racing economy is strong, Ireland’s has been devastated by tough economic times.
“The point I was trying to make was that rich or relatively poor racing countries (poor as in stake money not culture) were all chasing the $6 million on offer.”
He says his Twitter apology should be enough. “I am more than comfortable with my clarification and feel any further anger from the Irish community or from anywhere else is disproportionate.
“To suggest the comment was ‘racist’, as some have, via Twitter is to me ludicrous,” Mr Stewart said.