Taoiseach urges Independent TD Noel Grealish 'to clarify' remarks about immigrants

Taoiseach urges Independent TD Noel Grealish 'to clarify' remarks about immigrants

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has urged Rural Independent TD Noel Grealish to "withdraw" and clarify his claims African asylum seekers are in reality economic migrants coming to Ireland to "sponge" off taxpayers amid growing calls for him to resign.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Grealish - who supports the Government on a case-by-case basis from the opposition benches - needed to "make a statement" on what he said in response to ongoing public criticism of his comments.

On Wednesday night, almost 1,000 people attended a public meeting on Government proposals to use the former Connemara Gateway Hotel to house asylum seekers in the near future.

The meeting was attended by a number of local politicians including Government chief whip Sean Kyne, Independent TD Catherine Connolly and Mr Grealish.

While the meeting was intended to give the public information on what was happening, several sources said it quickly descended into deeply controversial views on immigration.

Ms Connolly repeatedly spoke out against the remarks throughout the meeting.

However, several sources confirmed Mr Grealish instead said Ireland is a "Christian" country, should prioritise "good Christian families" and claimed most African asylum seekers are in reality economic migrants "sponging" off the system.

Mr Grealish did not respond to a number of voicemails and text messages from the Irish Examiner on Thursday.

However, asked about the furore on Newstalk's Breakfast Show this morning, Mr Varadkar said it is time for Mr Grealish to break his silence and clarify exactly what he meant.

"I haven’t heard audio of his remarks and in that context it would help if he clarified what he said. He should make a statement on it," the Taoiseach said.

Asked again during a press conference at the end of Fine Gael's pre-Dáil think-in in Co Cork this afternoon, Mr Varadkar added:

I haven't heard those comments, I haven't heard the audio myself, but if what's said is true I think he needs to withdraw those remarks and certainly issue a statement to clarify what he said.

"We don't have a formal arrangement with Noel Grealish in the Dáil. He is an Independent, [he] very often votes with the Government, [but] sometimes he doesn't."

As reported in today's Irish Examiner, two of Mr Grealish's Rural Independents Dáil group colleagues - Cork South West TD Michael Collins and Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath - have refused to condemn the TD.

While accepting people in direct provision have been treated badly by the State, Mr Collins said: "Noel knows best what suits his area", adding his colleague is "a mature politician and it would be wrong of me to tell him" to apologise.

Asked if he would make similar comments at any meeting in his area, Mr Collins said: "I've my own viewpoint on those things, I wouldn't bullshit. First and foremost we should look after our own homeless rather than someone a little worse off in Syria".

While similarly saying he has sympathy for people in direct provision, Mr McGrath described Mr Grealish as "astute" and claimed "this liberal elite just want you to put up and shut up".

"I'm sick and tired of this nanny state and being targeted in the media for being racist just for saying what you think.

"Having an alternative view now is impossible, it's a bad day for democracy. It's like this in Ireland, but I'm back from Hungary and it's a different situation there.

If you're Catholic, conservative in Ireland, you're nobody, just told to get out of the way. It's all social bias.

Speaking at Fine Gael's annual pre-Dáil think-in in Cork on Thursday, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he is "very disappointed at some of the commentary coming from Oughterard" and said it is "not reflective of the Ireland of the welcomes".

However, he said the use of hotels in communities for asylum seekers is "very difficult" and challenging".

Labour senator Aodhan O Riordain, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Mick Barry and Social Democrats councillor Owen Hanley demanded Mr Grealish apologise for his remarks, saying they are entirely unacceptable.

The Galway Anti-Racism Network's chair Joe Loughane - who attended the meeting - went further, demanding Mr Grealish either apologise or resign.

While Mr Grealish has yet to comment publicly on what he said, a video emerged on social media this morning of his comments during Wednesday night's meeting.

In the video, Mr Grealish is heard to tell the crowd, the majority of whom appear to have applauded:

"Now I have worked with one or two Syrian families. These were genuine refugees who were persecuted in their homeland, because they were Christian, by ISIS.

"They were housed around Galway, put in houses, they were accepted by communities.

"If you watch the news, and even our Taoiseach said two weeks' ago that he would take an extra 200 what-do-you-call migrants from Africa.

"These are economic migrants. These are people coming over here from Africa to sponge off the system here in Ireland."

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