Saturday 21 September 2019

TD Noel Grealish urged to retract alleged remarks about asylum seekers

Noel Grealish: Redundancies paid out of his own pocket
Noel Grealish: Redundancies paid out of his own pocket

Gabija Gataveckaite and Hugh O'Connell

JUSTICE Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he is "disappointed" about alleged remarks made about asylum seekers by an independent TD at a public meeting in Galway.

A petition with over 800 signatures is urging Independent TD Noel Grealish to retract and apologise for remarks made at a public meeting last night about asylum seekers in Oughterard in County Galway.

According to the Chair of the Galway Anti-Racism Network and People Before Profit Galway representative Joe Loughnane, who attended the meeting, the TD made derogatory comments about asylum seekers.

"It was bizarre, it was surreal, other people there twice my age were giving it support," he told Independent.ie.

"It painted a picture of direct provision being a system that is being taken advantage of by asylum seekers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth," he said.

Mr Loughnane said he feared to speak up at the meeting.

"As a half-Pakistani and half-Irish man, I genuinely feared for my safety.

"I wanted to speak up, but I felt physically unsafe," he said.

Speaking at the Fine Gael parliamentary party think-in in Co Cork, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was "disappointed" at some of the commentary that had emerged from the meeting in Oughterard.

"I have to say these are very, very difficult and challenging issues. We have international obligations and national obligations as far as persons from the international stage seeking asylum in this country is concerned," Mr Flanagan said.

"I acknowledge that we don't have too many choices and I would hope that the comments that I've read and heard from last night's meeting in Oughterard I'm satisfied that they're not reflective of the views of the people of Galway, and certainly not reflective of Ireland of the welcomes.

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Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Asked if he was looking at the Galway town as a location for a Direct Provision centre, the minister said a number of places are being looked.

"I want to again underline that this is a most complex issue. We don't as a government have too many choices in terms of fulfilling and living up to our international obligations.

"We are obliged and I am quite satisfied that we are fully supported in this endeavor, that we provide International protection to those persons seeking that in this country - that involves board and food, lodgings, and shelter and the basic essentials. So I would hope that as we go through the tender process, that we will be in a position to make announcements on new centres over the next few weeks."

Government Chief Whip and Minister of State Seán Kyne, who attended the meeting, said Mr Grealish referred to those who will be using the Direct Provision Centre as not being Christians who are being persecuted, and made a reference to "Africans" who will use the centre.

Mr Kyne, a Fine Gael TD for Galway West, told Independent.ie: "There was a lot of tension at the meeting but I don’t stand over that. We’ve a process in this country under EU and international law for people claiming asylum and we have a fair system. 

"There is certainly concern in the community regarding the centre and the lack of answers and that information is not available at this stage and that’s causing concern. That was the main point that was coming across. There is concern about the unknown and it is felt the town wasn’t suitable. But I pointed out that we have legal and moral responsibilities as well." 

Councillor Thomas Welby, who called and chaired the public meeting, declined to confirm or deny Mr Grealish’s comments.

He said that approximately 800 people attended the meeting, which he called due to concerns that the former Connemara Gateway Hotel may be turned into a direct provision centre.

Councillor Welby said that a contract for a direct provision centre has not been yet agreed.

"Discussion [at the meeting] painted a clear picture that if people didn’t start [renovation] work on the hotel without the contract there wouldn’t be such concern.

"No problem with a small number of families coming but what are we talking about here, for 60 rooms, 120 people or 240 people in a village with the population of 1,300?"

The online petition, which now has over 1,000 signatures, was launched last night by Galway Councillor and Mr Grealish’s constituent Owen Hanley.

While he did not attend the meeting last night, Cllr Hanley said that he has full trust in Mr Loughnane as to what is alleged to have been said.

"I launched a petition because this language is unacceptable from a local representative," he said.

"The majority of the people in Galway do not hold those views.

"These words have an incredible effect on the people of who those words are targeted at.

"I think he should retract his statements as saying those words is completely unacceptable and he should apologise to the people  he offended."

Deputy Grealish did not respond to repeated requests for comment by Independent.ie to clarify his remarks.

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