Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has asked why Independent TD Noel Grealish decided to single out one country when he was discussing the amount of money sent from people living in the State to other nations.
Mr Donohoe said he “recoiled” as a result of Mr Grealish’s comments about the level of personal remittances to Nigeria and queried where the Galway West TD was “getting his figures”.
Mr Grealish used the Leaders’ Questions slot in the Dáil on Tuesday to raise the issue of personal remittances and said that Nigeria had in the past eight years received a total of €3.54 billion – the largest of any country.
Describing the amount as “astronomical”, he said he believed a lot of the money was genuine but asked if the Department of Finance or the Revenue Commissioners had mechanisms in place to ensure it was “not the proceeds of crime and fraud”. He said his figures were taken from a World Bank report.
The comments saw Mr Grealish accused of “racism” by some in the House and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar noted how for decades, and even centuries, Irish people had gone abroad and sent money home.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday, Mr Donohoe said remittances from Ireland to Nigeria came in at around €17million per year according to the Central Statistics Office.
He said there were very clear laws with regard to remittances and that “I am not aware that there are flows of funding from Ireland to any country that is a cause for any investigation”. He asked Mr Grealish to clarify information he has with regard to any country.
Dr Ebun Joseph, a lecturer in black studies in UCD, said Mr Grealish was effectively saying that “black money” should be policed differently.
“He is saying let us treat this group of people differently based on their nationality,” she told Morning Ireland.
Dr Joseph said people like Mr Grealish were “nothing but Donald Trump wannabees”.
It is the second time in recent weeks that Mr Grealish has made controversial comments about African immigrants. At a public meeting about a proposed direct provision centre in Oughterard, Co Galway in October, he claimed the type of people to be accommodated in the centre would be “economic migrants from Africa” whom he described as “spongers”.
The latest comments by the Independent Deputy, who backs Government votes regularly, were widely condemned by political opponents and by immigrant advocate groups.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan told Mr Grealish “more remittances came back to county Galway than to most other counties from the US and your constituents know that”.
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said Mr Grealish’s comments were “disgusting” and that he was worried about those who were “egging on” such attitudes in the State.
“He has a right to ask the question, but I didn’t like what he was inferring. I want to know why he did it,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke. “He has questions to answer about what he was trying to do.”
Minister for Health Simon Harris said there is “a duty of care on any of us who hold public office to sow the seeds of inclusion and not just engage in that sort of divisive Peter Casey-esque rhetoric”.
However, Independent TD for Kerry Danny Healy Rae defended Mr Grealishand said it was “unfair to call him racist”.
“I think he was entitled to ask the questions...I don’t know where he was going (with the question),” he added.
“It is wrong to call him names and to say he shouldn’t ask questions. It is up to Noel Grealish to deal with this in whatever way he sees fit.”
Edel McGinley, of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, said Mr Grealish did not need to ask the question because he had already been answered through a parliamentary question.
“It is an attempt to smear one group and for what purpose I don’t know. Why did he bring up the question when he had the answers,” she said.
Navan-based Fine Gael councillor Yemi Adenuga, who is originally from Nigeria, said she would like to see the relationship between Fine Gael and Mr Grealish severed.
“If he is genuinely concerned he should ask a straightforward question, he doesn’t have to make inflammatory remarks about Nigerians,” she said. “Why is he ok about money being sent to other EU countries?”