World Bank warns of ‘caveats’ on remittances data amid Noel Grealish controversy

Warning on statistics on migrant money flows comes in wake of TD’s remarks on the issue

November 12th, 2019: Noel Grealish TD has been called "racist" and "a disgrace" by fellow TDs after he asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if the government was ensuring that all money transferred out of Ireland to non-EU countries was being properly taxed. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The World Bank has said that “caveats” should apply to the use of its data on remittances, which were at the centre of a Dáil controversy this week that saw charges of racism levelled against Independent TD Noel Grealish.

The Galway West deputy, citing World Bank data, told the Dáil that more than €3.5 billion was sent to Nigeria in remittances from Ireland over eight years.

He called for the money to be investigated in case there was a link to crime and was accused of engaging in “disgraceful racism” during the exchanges that followed.

Cental Statistics Office data suggests that the remittance flows from Ireland to Nigeria are about €17 million a year or €136 million over the same period, about 4 per cent of the total cited by Mr Grealish.

The World Bank on Thursday said in a statement that “caveats” should be applied to the results given by its methodology for remittances, which are notoriously difficult for statisticians to correctly estimate.

‘Source and destination’

It said its methodology “implies several caveats to the resulting estimates of bilateral flows between Ireland and Nigeria”, which it says were worth some $539 million (€490 million) last year.

There is “an urgent need to improve data on both migration and remittance flows”, the bank said, adding that “until central banks publish data on remittances by source and destination, estimation using this kind of methodology is the only option”.

The measurement relies on Nigeria’s self-reported total remittance receipts and the World Bank says money that flows through unofficial channels may not be captured by this and that it is possible some remittances from Ireland may be attributed to other countries.

‘Room for improvement’

Paola Sandra Alvarez, a project development officer with the International Organisation for Migration, who has extensively researched remittances, warned there is “still a lot of room for improvement” in the World Bank data.

She said that local factors such as abnormally high gross domestic product, an issue in Ireland due to the impact of the multinational sector on economic numbers, can “distort” the outcomes of global models.

“It’s not to say we should not rely on this data, but we have to read it carefully and understand the methodologies are still imperfect. They give us an idea, but there is still a lot to know,” she said.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan on Thursday called on Mr Grealish to “correct the record” in relation to his comments on remittances sent to Nigeria.

“It is unacceptable for any elected leader to present on the floor of Dáil Éireann a misstatement of facts,” the Minister told The Irish Times.

“I think it is important now that he correct the record and his statements underline the need for all of us in politics to show leadership, to exercise great care in the use of language.”