THE FORMER MAYOR of the capital city of New Zealand has stood by a controversial comment which has upset the country’s Irish community.
Sir Michael Fowler was criticising opponents of plans by city officials to erect a giant sign in the hills overlooking its international airport.
The ‘Wellywood’ sign, referencing the world-famous Hollywood sign overlooking the famous district of Los Angeles, is intended as a plug for the city’s own growing film industry.
The proposal became the butt of significant criticism, with many complaining that the sign is derivative and unfunny – while authorities in Hollywood itself have also criticised the sign’s plagiaristic design.
Responding to the criticism of the sign, Fowler wrote a handwritten letter to the Dominion Post in which he praised the proposal – before sharing a stinging criticism of its opponents:
I’ve believed it to be clever, witty and relevant and its critics dumb, humourless, totally irrelevant and probably Irish.
The comment prompted ire among the city’s Irish residents, who have unsuccessfully lobbied for an apology and who are hosting a peaceful protest march in the city on Saturday to voice their displeasure.
Many Irish readers contacted the newspaper to contest Walker’s claim, with one describing it as “a pretty racist comment” and another calling it “about the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”.
“It’s appallingly unintelligent – just like the airport sign,” a reader wrote.
Walker, though, has refused to withdraw the remark – though he insisted that it was not meant to be insulting towards Irish people.
Contacted by the newspaper, he simply explained that he was referring to the Irish trait of opposing authority.
81-year-old Fowler, an architect by trade, was the city’s mayor between 1974 and 1983.