Noel Grealish is "in no position to tell any person who has earned income, inside or outside this country, how they should spend it", and Galway needs to "stand up" against the kind of "ill thought rhetoric" the TD uttered in the Dáil this week.
This is the view of Independent county councillor James Charity who has condemned remarks by Independent Galway West TD, Noel Grealish, which appeared to imply that Nigerians in Ireland sending money home to family were involved in crime or fraudulent activity.
The remarks have drawn sharp criticism both locally and nationally. The Galway Anti-Racism Network has called on Dep Grealish to resign his seat, while Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger accused the Carnmore based politician of 'disgraceful racism".
'I’m not sure where you’re going on this'
In the Dáil on Tuesday, Dep Grealish claimed that a "staggering" €10 billion in personal remittances were sent abroad from Ireland over the past eight years, claiming the largest amounts were going to Lithuania (€843 million ), France (€1 billion ), Poland (€1.54 billion ), the UK (€2.7 billion ) and Nigeria (€3.54 billion ).
He then went on draw a distinction between money being sent to another EU country - he said money being sent to the UK was understandable with 100,000 British people living in Ireland - and the sum going to Nigeria.
While he said much of the money was “absolutely genuine”, he still described the sum going to the west African nation as “astronomical”, and asked if the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Finance had a method of tracking the source of this money to ensure it was not the proceeds of crime and fraud, as more than €1 billion a year was being transferred.
The comments were received with disgust by fellow TDs. Minister Eoghan Murphy asked “where’s the evidence” and further questioned “why is it illegal money if it is not going to the EU”, while Dep Coppinger said Dep Grealish was “suggesting that people who work here are criminals”.
In response, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said, “I’m not quite sure where you’re going with on this," pointing out that "for decades, even centuries", Irish people had gone abroad and sent money home. “I remember my grandmother – all her family went to America – telling me about the cheques coming from the States,” the Taoiseach said. “That is the way the world works.”
On Wednesday, the Central Statistics Office undermined the veracity of Dep Grealish's figures, pointing out that remittances from Ireland to Nigera were around €17 million a year for the period 2010-2017, significantly lower than those cited by Dep Grealish
Galway Anti-Racism Network was highly critical of Dep Grealish for "distinguishing between the money sent home by white people to EU countries and money sent by non-white people to non-EU countries". GARN spokesperson Joe Loughnane [pictured above] said the TD offered "no explanation for this distinction" other than the implication that "where the inhabitants were predominantly people of colour" the actions "must be fraudulent or criminal".
Mr Loughnane said Dep Grealish was also "completely ignoring" how Irish people "for many decades" sent money home to their families. He furthermore drew attention to TD's website, which says, "Like so many in the West of Ireland, many of the Grealish family had to emigrate in search of work..." Mr Loughnane said that if the TD's logic was applied to his own family, it would involve the Irish authorities "monitoring of any money his relatives have sent home to Ireland".
'In the 1960s, my father and uncle emigrated to Birmingham from Dundalk. My mother and a cousin left Galway for Birmingham. All were, in a sense, economic emigrants' - Cllr James Charity
Cllr Charity [pictured below] has condemned Dep Grealish's remarks as for implying that migrants sending money back to their home countries "are somehow engaged in effective money laundering of illegally obtained proceeds", and that this accusation was made without "any evidence to substantiate those claims".
He said this kind of thinking, also, by analogy, "cast aspersions on the thousands of Irish people who emigrated, and the families they left behind, who received money their sons or daughters managed to cobble together and send back home in support".
Dep Charity pointed out how his own family benefited from money sent home by migrant relatives. "In the early 1960s, both my father and uncle emigrated to Birmingham from Dundalk. Around the same time, my mother and a cousin left Galway for Birmingham," he said. "They joined thousands of Irish who left our shores to places like the US and UK in search of work and a better life. All were, in a sense, economic emigrants.
"At one stage following emigration, my father worked three separate jobs in Birmingham to keep the family going and a roof over their heads. Throughout it all, he continued to send whatever little money he could back home to Ireland. As did my mother. Their story is not unique. It is common to thousands of Irish people. Deputy Grealish's comments besmirch them all."
Cllr Charity said he would like to see a discussion on the direct provision system, the open border policy of the EU, and the State's asylum processing system, but that such discussion must be done through "examining our laws, comparing our processes with those of countries inside and outside the European Union, and considering informed expert opinion", and must not involve "stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment" or by using "inflammatory language such as 'spongers' and allegations of monies being the proceeds of crime absent any corroborating evidence".
Labour city councillor Niall McNelis [pictured above] has also condemned what he called Dep Grealish's "disgraceful comments about Africans", and said th eTD comments demeans Galway's reputation as "the most diverse city in Ireland".
“My fear is that his questions in the Dáil will be used to feed into the toxic discourse racists in Ireland desire," said Cllr McNelis. "Dep Grealish has not apologised for or clarified his earlier comments, and I call on him to now to look online and see how the few far-Right trolls in this country are heralding Noel Grealish as a hero. These are people whose agenda is hatred and whipping up fear of non-nationals."
Fianna Fáil city councillor Ollie Crowe described Dep Grealish's comments as "bizarre and not reflective of Galway". He said: “In Ireland we have a long history of leaving our homes to move abroad and support family who stayed home by sending money back. Next year Galway will become the European Capital of Culture for 2020. We will welcome thousands of overseas visitors to our city. They should not be put off by the vile comments articulated in the Dáil."