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Sunday 20 October 2019

Higgins defends immigrants after TDs' shock comments

President Michael D Higgins (Donall Farmer/PA)
President Michael D Higgins (Donall Farmer/PA)

Cormac McQuinn in New York

President Michael D Higgins has defended immigrants and highlighted the communities that welcome them in the wake of controversial remarks by two Independent TDs.

He also compared the recent commentary around immigration in Ireland to a speech delivered by Donald Trump at the UN where the US president said countries should put their own people first.

Mr Higgins said the facts about migrants must be corrected when they are "abused" but that this doesn't justify "any malfunctions" in communication with communities facing processes of change such as being asked to accept asylum seekers.

He also pointed out that Irish people have been immigrants in the past and "it's something we should try to understand".

In recent weeks Independent TD Noel Grealish was heavily criticised after claiming that African migrants "sponge off the system" at a public meeting on a proposed direct provision centre in Oughterard, Co Galway.

Meanwhile, Cork South-West TD Michael Collins claimed Ireland is "losing our culture". He also said the country should "look after our own people first and then when that issue is sorted, let's start looking at people from across the world".

Mr Higgins was asked about the remarks by both men during his visit to New York where he last night delivered Ireland's address to the UN General Assembly.

He said it wouldn't be appropriate for him to comment on individual politicians or parties but offered a strong view on the debate on immigration.

Mr Higgins said: "You see a certain resonance of that in the General Assembly... where one of the principal speeches made by one of the most powerful speakers... [was] about the choice between what he called patriots and globalists."

This was a reference to Mr Trump who has been criticised for a crackdown on immigration into the US. Mr Trump argued at the UN: "Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first."

Mr Higgins spoke of the importance of facts on the issue of immigration and said that, internationally, between 10pc and 12pc of GDP is provided by migrant workers.

He said there is no evidence migrants replace workers or people on housing lists and the facts must be corrected "when they're abused in this way".

He said communication to communities must involve the "best possible information".

"We should hear more and more of the wonderful work done by primary school teachers, by boards of management, by people who are parents, by children above all else... it has been a great success," he said.

In his address to the UN Mr Higgins last night spoke of climate change and inequality as crises facing the international community. He called the UN "a great peace project" that "strives for fair and sustainable global development" and to support "the many fleeing war, persecution, famine and natural disasters".

Irish Independent

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