Grealish accused of 'disgraceful racism' as TD targets migrants in Dáil

Grealish accused of 'disgraceful racism' as TD targets migrants in Dáil
Pic: RTÉ Twitter.

Independent TD Noel Grealish has been accused of “disgraceful racism” after suggesting money being sent from Ireland by Nigerian migrants could be the proceeds of crime or fraud.

Mr Grealish’s remarks, which come just weeks after he claimed African migrants are “spongers”, sparked anger across the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called for an urgent meeting of political leaders to draw up protocols around racism as there are fears that a far-right agenda could dominate the next general election.

“I would call on all party leaders to meet, including the leaders of the various independent groupings, to discuss a political protocol around how we deal with migration and to have clear guidelines that we don’t stray beyond,” he said.

This was backed up by Teresa Buczkowska of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, who said a worrying trend began ahead of last May’s local and European elections where some candidates were “trying to harness negative sentiment around immigration”.

She said Mr Grealish’s comments were “disappointing” but “not surprising”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was not sure where Mr Grealish was going with his line of questioning but insisted that those coming to Ireland work hard and pay their taxes similar to many Irish people who emigrated in previous generations.

Mr Grealish was criticised when he questioned €10bn that he claimed has left the country by way of personal transfers to various countries in the past eight years.

The Galway West politician told the Dáil that “vast amounts of money cannot leave the country with no proper controls or monitoring in place”.

TDs from all sides interjected after Mr Grealish said he “understands transfers to other EU countries”, citing more than 100,000 British people who live here, but described the €3.4bn allegedly transferred to Nigeria as “astronomical”.

Mr Varadkar reminded the House of Ireland’s long history of people leaving and sending money back home.

“I remember that all of my grandmother’s family went to America and she told me about the cheques coming from the United States,” he said. Several of Mr Grealish’s siblings emigrated from Ireland to live in the US.

Referring to Mr Grealish’s distinction between European and non-EU migrants, Mr Varadkar said the nearby Holles Street hospital is “full of midwives from India, nurses from the Philippines, and doctors from Egypt, Pakistan, and elsewhere” who work hard and pay taxes.

“Out of their post-tax income, they send some money back to their families, who probably paid for their education,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said Revenue has protections and controls in place when it comes to money laundering, financial controls, and tax evasion.

Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger expressed outrage at Mr Grealish’s remarks and asked the ceann comhairle to “call this out”.

“This is disgraceful racism. He is suggesting that people who work here are criminals,” she said.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy also interrupted proceedings to ask if Mr Grealish had any evidence to back up his queries.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said considerable remittances came back to Galway from the US and Mr Grealish’s constituents “know that”.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath last night appeared to back Mr Grealish, claiming that if TDs raise questions around direct provision and migration, they are “branded as racist”.

Mr Martin accused Mr Grealish of “conflating money laundering and criminality with migration”, describing the comments as “loaded” and “dangerous”. He said there is a fear that politicians could be “competing with each other to be more populist on the issue” during an election campaign, which he said would be “very dangerous” and “wrong”.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said there has been “most unwelcome shift in political discourse in relation to race” which must be confronted.

“Hate speech must be challenged and it is incumbent now on all political leaders to ensure that we hold the line for democracy,” he said.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath last night appeared to back Mr Grealish, claiming that if TDs raise questions around direct provision and migration, they are “branded as racist”.

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