Less than a month after President Michael D Higgins Irish State visit to Australia an Australian minister has apologised for warning people not to answer the door to anyone with an Irish accent.
Marlene Kairouz, minister for consumer affairs in the parliament of Victoria, made the comments at the launch of an awareness campaign about scam tradesmen last week.
“If anybody knocks on your door who has an Irish accent, automatically ask them to leave,” she said.
Her comments caused outrage among the Irish community in Australia and prompted an apology by the Australian Embassy in Ireland. Ms Kairouz apologised for her “poor choice of words” but pointed out recent confidence tricksters in the area were British and Irish.
“Recent scammers have been backpackers from the UK and Ireland, and I was giving this information to the public.
“I admit I delivered this message poorly and I sincerely apologise for causing offence.”
Ms Kairouz had warned about con artists who target elderly people with offers of painting, roof fixing, driveway resurfacing and garden work.
“They know exactly where to go, who to target and as soon as they get the cash they leave,” she said.
The local consumer protection bureau received 207 complaints about travelling conmen in the year 2016-17, with more than A$477,000 (€313,389) lost.
One woman, aged 79, paid A$4,500 (€3,000) to tradesmen who said they could fix her leaking roof. They took the money before completing the job. They had Irish accents, she said.
In the 2011 census, there were more than 67,300 Irish-born people living in Australia while a further two million Australians trace their heritage to Ireland.
Australia’s Embassy in Dublin quickly intervened to tell Irish people they’re welcome in Australia and repeated its Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s boast to President of Ireland Michael D Higgins on a State visit there last month that “Australia is the most Irish country in the world”.
Mr Turnbull told President Higgins: “The warmth of the history and the family ties between Australia and Ireland couldn’t be greater. Australia is the most Irish country in the world, (apart from Ireland, of course).”