A United Nations debate about celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the 'New World' results in a row over who discovered America.

The UN General Assembly considered a motion to commemorate in 1992, the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The proposal was put forward by the Latin states but the Irish and Icelandic ambassadors intervened with objections and reservations.

According to the Irish ambassador Noel Dorr, discovery is the wrong word to use.  He claimed Norseman Leif Ericsson, an Icelander of Norwegian descent, came to America in the year 1000. 

I am reluctant to appear any way nationalistic or chauvinistic in speaking of such a matter, but I cannot refrain from mentioning also, Irish stories and legends which received wide currency in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Citing the Latin text ‘Nauigatio sancti Brendani’ he suggests Irish monks may have crossed the North Atlantic to America as early as the 7th century.

Noel Dorr’s argument was strongly supported by the Icelandic ambassador Hodur Helgason who said it would be the first UN resolution to commemorate colonisation. If the resolution is passed he suggested 20 years of celebration for Leif Ericsson in the year 2000.

These comments were not taken well by the Latin nations and five of them felt moved to reply talking of insult, mockery and surprise. The Spanish ambassador denied his countrymen came to colonise at all.

Spain had left its culture in the New World, Ireland had only left the New York police force.

While Costa Rica suggested,

If the Irish and the Norse had reached America, they certainly didn't know where they were.

The debate became so heated UN officials announced that the vote would be put off for a week.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 30 November 1982. The presenter is Shane Kenny. The reporter is Keith Hindle.