Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been urged to condemn “racist” comments made by a Fine Gael councillor.
Limerick councillor Stephen Keary, who is the father-in-law of junior minister Patrick O’Donovan, has defended comments in which he suggested welfare recipients from Eastern Europe see Ireland as “easy pickings”.
Mr Keary, who is due to be elected Limerick’s mayor as part of a voting pact his party holds with Fianna Fáil, said immigrants are the reason behind a substantial rise in numbers on social housing lists and hospital waiting lists in recent years.
“We are known as the home for the handouts. They see us as easy pickings,” said Mr Keary.
“People have come here from Eastern Europe for the handouts. It has become a huge problem.”
Labour councillor Elena Secas has called on Mr Varadkar to condemn the remarks by his party colleague, as she claimed they were unacceptable and an insult to all immigrant communities in Ireland.
“I am asking Taoiseach Varadkar to urgently investigate this matter and take appropriate action in response,” said Ms Secas.
She said she believes Mr Keary is unfit to become mayor of Limerick because the person who holds this office should be “inclusive and representative” of the entire community.
“I strongly condemn these racist comments and believe that all immigrant communities in Limerick and across Ireland are owed an apology,” said Ms Secas.
A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the Taoiseach had been briefed on the matter
Solidarity councillor Cian Prendiville has also called on Fianna Fáil to pull its support for the long-serving member.
Mr Prendiville accused the councillor of embarking on a “bargain basement Donald Trump-style rant”.
He accused Mr Keary of trying to “scapegoat immigrants”.
“It’s precisely the type of ‘dog whistle’ divide and rule politics that people like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen have tried to use to whip up racism and division,” said Mr Prendiville.
“It seems Fine Gael’s most reactionary wing have been emboldened by the coronation of their leader Leo Varadkar, and recent attacks on those on social welfare.”
However, Mr Keary continued to defend his comments yesterday, stating: “I stand over everything I said.”
“When a person from another country comes into our country without work, and who has never worked before, they do it for the social welfare benefit and all the trimmings which go with it.
“They are nothing more than social welfare tourists who are improving their status and getting more money than they would in other jurisdictions.”
Mr Keary said he still expects both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to support his nomination as mayor on June 26.
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