Leprechaun cartoon was ‘irreverent and a bit of fun’

Irish group files complaint with Independent Media Council in Australia

The cartoon at the centre of the controversy appeared in The West Australian newspaper earlier this week. Photograph: Irish People Living In Australia

The editor of an Australian newspaper has responded to complaints over a cartoon portraying Irish nurses and a leprechaun saying he was “struggling to see” how the image was considered “ill-mannered or offensive”.

In an email to The Irish Times, Brett McCarthy, editor of The West Australian , called the cartoon "irreverent and a bit of fun".

“As someone of Irish ancestry I’m totally baffled by the claim the cartoon was racist” said Mr McCarthy. “It is a light hearted portrayal of the nurses as fun loving Irish women (all of whom happen to be named Colleen) - how is that racist?”

“They were not portrayed as incompetent or stupid,” he added.


“In my experience the Irish have a great sense of humour and, like Aussies, love poking fun at themselves and can take a joke with the best of them. Has this changed?”

A group representing Irish people living in Australia now plans to lodge a formal complaint with the Independent Media Council over the "racist" image. The cartoon by Dean Alston, which was printed on Monday, shows four Irish nurses and a leprechaun doing a jig at the bedside of two patients.

The 14 administrators of the Facebook page Irish People Living in Australia (IPLA), which has more than 30,000 followers, wrote to the newspaper yesterday saying they were "absolutely disgusted with the racist message conveyed in the image."

The group requested an apology "for this ill-mannered and offensive cartoon" and The West Australian was given 24 hours, till 9am this morning Irish time to respond.

“I get the feeling people think we’re over reacting but people haven’t actually experienced this,” said a spokesman for the IPLA. “We see this a lot in articles in the Australian media and equally the New Zealand media, it’s lazy journalism on easy targets. If you replaced Irish with Muslim or Aborigine there would be uproar in Australia.”

The group updated the Facebook page this afternoon saying they had received an “official” response from the newspaper without an apology.

The post wrote: “our point here is that we, as the largest group and strongest voice for the Irish community in Australia have to stand up for ourselves while embracing our new home.”

The controversy follows a row over the recent recruitment of 150 Irish nurses by the St John of God Healthcare group in Western Australia, which the Australian Nursing Federation has said unfairly prioritises the employment of foreign nurses over Australians.

The West Australian reported earlier this week that the positions were being filled by Irish nurses because of a predicted shortage of qualified nurses to fill positions at their three new hospitals, due to open in the next 18 months.

Around 30 Irish nurses have already travelled to work at two of the St John’s hospitals in Western Australia, with the rest due to arrive before the group’s new Midland hospital opens in 18 months.

Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation Mark Olson told The West Australian that there was a looming shortage of nurses, but warned employers not to rely on foreign nurses as a quick fix.

“I object to overseas nurses being seen as a first resort, rather than a last resort,” he said. “It’s short-sighted if employers are constantly looking to poor economies when they can pick up graduates in Australia.”

Mr Olsen said up to 300 graduate nurses were unemployed and many others were underemployed after having hours cut from rosters.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine