March 25April 1, 1999
hit and run
Schmuck of the Irish
Advertising that appeals to specific racial or ethnic groups is nothing new; many restaurant chains do it routinely. But a Delaware County auto tag service recently tried a new twist: insulting the group it's trying to attract.
Around St. Patrick's Day, Hunter's Instant Auto Tagswith two Ridley Township-area locationsdistributed fliers with the following message: "Irish? Then you probably have a DUI. Call O'Hunter's for low insurance rates for DUI violators."
Irish Americans generally react to the heavy-drinker stereotype in much the same way Italian Americans do to the suggestion that they're all connected to the mob: with great annoyance, and a touch of wonder that the label is still around. So when Mary Frances Fogg, a member of the Irish-Catholic organization the Ancient Order of Hibernians, saw the flier, she was outraged.
"I called there, thinking maybe it was a mistake," says Fogg, a city employee. She was shocked when a man who wouldn't identify himself taunted her, and confirmed that the Irish are indeed "just a bunch of drunks."
On Friday, Fogg e-mailed the leadership of her AOH divisionincluding Bob Gessler, president of the organization's Philadelphia board. Gessler, who forwarded Fogg's e-mail to other local Irish-American leaders, also was struck by the flier's blatant offensiveness.
"It's almost as if a business rival put it out," he says. "It borders on libel or ethnic intimidation." (Gessler also called, and says he was told that the owner actually scaled back his original plan, which included having women in green miniskirts and fishnet stockings hand out the fliers.)
John Hunter, owner of the auto tag businesses, says he's Irish himself, and didn't intend to upset anyone.
"It was just a little joke to get [people's] attention," he explains. "We help a lot of people [get insurance after DUI convictions]. And I didn't mean it to be offensive. Actually, I heard at least 10 jokes more offensive than that at a St. Patty's Day party at a bar owned by an Irish guy.
"But anyone I have offended, I personally apologize to."
Whether that will be enough remains to be seen. Gessler says an Irish-American member of the Ridley Township council planned to denounce the flier and Hunter's Instant Auto Tags at a township meeting Wednesday night. And picketing is not out of the question.
"If this is [Hunter's] opinion of the Irish, he certainly doesn't need our business, that's for damn sure," Gessler says.
On the positive side, notes Fogg, the reaction to the flier "shows how organized we really are."