Galway TD asked to withdraw controversial migrant comments

He was addressing the crowd who gathered in Oughterard, Co Galway.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called for an Independent TD to withdraw remarks he allegedly made about African migrants (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aine McMahon and Cate McCurry, PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called for an Independent TD to withdraw remarks he allegedly made about African migrants.

Claims that Galway West TD Noel Grealish made controversial comments about asylum seekers emerged earlier this week.

In audio from the public meeting, Mr Grealish can be heard telling hundreds of people that African migrants arriving into Ireland were “economic migrants” who “sponge” off the system.

He was addressing the crowd who gathered in Oughterard, Co Galway in relation to proposed plans to locate a direct provision centre in a nearby disused hotel.

Responding to the claims, Mr Varadkar said: “I haven’t heard those comments, I haven’t heard the audio myself but if what’s said is true I think he needs to withdraw those remarks and certainly issue a statement to clarify what he said.

“We don’t have a formal arrangement with Noel Grealish in the Dail.

“He is an independent, very often votes with the Government, sometimes doesn’t.”

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has also rejected claims by government ministers who accused President Michael D Higgins of going “too far” over his comments about Defence Forces’ pay.

Earlier this week, Mr Higgins said it “should not be too much to expect” that members of the Defence Forces are paid sufficiently to provide for themselves and their families.

His comments have attracted criticism from some government ministers who accuse Mr Higgins of going too far.

Asked whether he agrees with the criticism, Mr Varadkar said: “What the President said was that he believed that members of the Defence Forces should earn enough to provide for them and their families and I totally agree with that, but I wouldn’t stop there.

“I would say that applies to everyone in society and especially those who work in the public service.

“It applies to nurses, to teachers, to gardai, to clerical officers, people working in kitchens and hospitals, everyone in the public service makes their contribution.

“And that’s why we have the public service pay deal.

“There’s an 8% in pay for the Defence Forces and roughly an average of an extra 1,000 euro in additional allowances.

“So that’s what’s there, and that’s what’s on offer.

“What I wouldn’t like to do is to single out one group of public servants for special treatment, or to set different sets of public servants against each other fighting over what’s available.

“That’s why we have a collective agreement which includes the Defence Forces and we’re setting aside 400 million euro next year for increases in public pay and the Defence Forces will get their fair share.”

Asked whether Defence Forces will be paid anything extra, Mr Varadkar said: “What’s happened there is that the independent Public Services Pay Commission (PSPC) examined the terms and conditions of the Defence Forces, recommended an extra 10 million euro in allowances.

“That’s on top of the pay increases they’re getting in their basic pay.

“That’s worth over 1,000 euro to the average member of the Defence Forces.

“That is now on offer and that’s up to the representative bodies whether they’re going to accept that or not.”