TD criticised for allegedly saying African asylum seekers ‘sponge off system’

Deputy spoke at Oughterard meeting where concern about direct provision centre was raised

Galway West TD Noel Grealish has faced criticism from politicians and on social media for allegedly portraying African asylum seekers as economic migrants who ‘sponge off the system’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Galway West TD Noel Grealish has faced criticism from politicians and on social media for allegedly portraying African asylum seekers as economic migrants who ‘sponge off the system’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

Galway West TD Noel Grealish has faced criticism from politicians and on social media for allegedly portraying African asylum seekers as economic migrants who “sponge off the system”.

The comments were ascribed to him after a public meeting in Oughterard, Co Galway on Wednesday night. The meeting was called over speculation that a direct provision centre may be located in a disused hotel close to the town.

The Independent TD reportedly told the meeting, attended by 800 people, that the only group in Africa in need of asylum were Christians being persecuted by Islamic State. He said most Africans arriving into Ireland were sponging off the system. He received a loud round of applause after concluding his speech.

Some other people who spoke at the meeting referred to asylum seekers as “those people” and, according to a number of those who attended, other offensive remarks were made.

Mr Grealish did not respond to numerous calls and texts from The Irish Times.

His fellow Galway West TD Catherine Connolly also spoke at the meeting and publicly told Mr Grealish she was unhappy at his remarks.

“He was not the only person who said that. A phrase was used more than once, ‘those people’, which I was unhappy with. I was heckled once or twice. I asked them to consider my points and they did listen,” she said.

Ms Connolly there was a lot of anger which she understood. She said the Department of Justice, by refusing to give any information about its plans, had allowed a vacuum of information to develop.

“The vacuum is terrible. It allows for rumours and information that is not factual, that’s what I heard in Oughterard on Wednesday night, including from a politician,” she said.

Heckled

Seán Kyne, the Government chief whip who is from the area, was heckled and booed by some sections of the crowd. Mr Kyne told the meeting there was a tender process ongoing in the west to find locations for new asylum centres but that this was under the remit of the Department of Justice and neither he nor his colleagues were privy to information about any applications.

Joe Loughnane, from the Galway Anti-racism Network, called on Mr Grealish to resign over the comments.

“I have never heard a TD saying something like that in my life,” he said.

He said that while there was an angry atmosphere at the meeting, nobody had made remarks like those of Mr Grealish.

Local councillor Tom Welby, who chaired the meeting, said he could not comment on Mr Grealish’s comments.

“I cannot say with certainty what he said word for word. There were minutes taken of the meeting but they are not ready yet. Until they are, I am not going to comment on what he might have said,” he said.

The councillor said the meeting was called because of intensive construction work being done on the Connemara Gateway Hotel, which has been closed for more than a decade. He said locals had put two and two together and suspected a direct provision centre was to be located there.

‘No problem’

Asked were there racist overtones to the meeting, he replied: “I reject the accusation. I have no problem with integrating. We have all nationalities in Oughterard as it is. Our problem is this is a flawed process.”

It is understand the Department of Justice holds the view it can make no comment about any possible location for a centre on the grounds that tender evaluation process is underway. That includes not being in a position to confirm if the owners of a particular property has applied.

Sources said that once contracts are awarded, then a full communications campaign is put in place, which informs local communities about the decision.

However, all the local politicians said this approach created a vacuum and generated fears.

“There is no dialogue with the community,” said Mr Welby. “By the time the contract is signed it will be a done deal. There’s will be no point at that stage in consultation.