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Gene Kerrigan: 'Is it true what they say about Noel Grealish?'

Statistics can mislead until you look behind them - so can the politicians who use those statistics


Why did Noel Grealish, Independent TD for Galway West, mislead his constituents?

Let's analyse the evidence in the public domain.

As for the accusation that Mr Grealish is a racist, I'm not entirely convinced he is, despite his efforts to demonstrate otherwise last week.

Let's look at what he might have been up to.

We don't know exactly where Mr Grealish got the idea that there might be a problem with Nigerian criminals in Ireland, somehow amassing billions by unlawful means - and sending that money to Nigeria.

Perhaps he read it in some article that quoted figures from the World Bank. The World Bank said that over the past eight years Nigerians in Ireland sent home the staggering figure of €3.54 billion.

There's evidence that Mr Grealish made further inquiries, checking the facts rather than jumping to conclusions. Perhaps he worried he'd discovered a problem the Taoiseach didn't know about.

He asked a parliamentary question of the Taoiseach. He wanted to know "the amount sent out of Ireland in personal remittances in each of the past 10 years; and the countries to which they were sent each year".

Good man, proper order.

On October 22 he got an answer, a table of figures. It showed the Central Statistics Office figure for Nigerian remittances was consistently around €17m a year, a fraction of the World Bank figure. Entirely unremarkable.

So now he had two different sets of figures.

On the face of it, the CSO figure seems proportionate, given the numbers of people involved and the incredible scale of economic activity that would be needed to generate the World Bank figure.

Yet, the World Bank figure couldn't just be dismissed.

What to do?

A responsible TD would ask the Taoiseach about the discrepancy, or the Department of Finance, or an economist, perhaps ring the CSO, or the World Bank.

Mr Grealish apparently decided, instead, to just make unsubstantiated public claims.

If he had asked about the discrepancy he'd have found that both figures are based on analysis of existing material - and that the CSO is by far the more reliable.

For the World Bank figure to be right, each Nigerian in Ireland would, on average, be sending about €30,000 home each year. If the CSO is right that figure would be about €1,300 a year.

And if the CSO figure is right - and I think it is - there's nothing to get excited about. Most countries, including Ireland, have at times had a diaspora that works hard and sends money home.

If he'd inquired of the CSO, he'd have been told that the World Bank figure involved a calculation that includes the Irish GDP figure. And that would have been enough to make him suspicious of the World Bank statistics.

Any TD with an interest in such matters would - or should - already know that the Irish GDP is banjaxed.

Multinational companies use Ireland as a conduit through which to channel profits, to dodge tax. In return, we get a small cut and some white collar jobs.

This tax dodging screws up our GDP figures. It caused us international embarrassment in 2015, when the official figures showed a 26.3pc jump in the Irish GDP.

This figure was impossible - unless the entire population was printing banknotes on the side.

Yet the GDP increase showed up as 26.3pc. And it was later revised upwards to 34.4pc. Simply impossible.

Had everyone in Ireland become a millionaire overnight?

No, it was the Apple corporation, using the Irish economy to execute a $300bn "tax inversion", to dodge US tax, and in the process to make an international joke of the Irish GDP.

We were justifiably sneered at for our "Leprechaun economics".

As a result, the Irish GDP was quietly retired as unreliable. And, instead, we use something called the "modified GNI" (don't ask).

Does Mr Grealish a) know the GDP figure is dodgy; and b) does he know it's used to calculate the World Bank figures?

If the answer to a) is no, he's displaying a level of ignorance that simply doesn't belong in the Dail. It would be like a barber not knowing how scissors work.

If the answer to b) is no, and he hasn't explored the World Bank figures, he's been very casual about making very serious allegations.

Here's a thing:

Back in October, Mr Grealish used the parliamentary question (PQ) procedure and was given the CSO figures.

With a PQ, you ask in advance, the matter is researched by civil servants, and the government minister or Taoiseach has a full answer ready.

Last Tuesday, Mr Grealish stood up in the Dail and asked another question. He chose this time not to use the PQ route.

Instead, he chose to ask a Leaders' Question. This is a question raised without advance notice, so the minister or Taoiseach doesn't know what's coming, has no background material to hand and cannot confirm or challenge facts or figures thrown out.

This process depends on the good faith of all involved.

Mr Grealish chose to leave out the figures he got in the Dail on October 22, and to use only the World Bank figures.

To be clear:

He left out the CSO figures. He left out the fact that there were figures that contradicted the World Bank statistics.

He misled the Taoiseach, by giving the impression that the World Bank figures are the only ones, accurate and unchallenged.

He also misled the Dail by doing so.

He misled everyone who saw a TV news broadcast about this or read a newspaper or saw this matter discussed on social media.

Given his recent claim at Oughterard about Africans coming to "sponge off" Ireland, he knew that no one would more carefully take in his comments than his West Galway constituents. He knew he was misleading them, too.

He chose to deliver his suggestion that there may be something criminal going on by using the old "I'm just asking a question" ploy.

He wasn't saying there are criminal Nigerians stealing billions, merely "asking a question" about controls on cash leaving the country.

Here's a question: "Does Noel Grealish look out on Galway Bay each evening, stark naked and using his penis to wave goodbye to the setting sun?"

I don't - and can't - provide a single word to substantiate this. I don't have to, I'm just asking a question.

Like Noel and the Nigerians.

There's an old term the Irish use for people who engage in this sly, cowardly calumny: "sleeveen".

Why did he do all this?

Mr Grealish is a career politician. It pays well.

He spends a lot of time watering his grassroots, but you can't be too careful. All politicians noted the Peter Casey effect in 2018. Casey was on 2pc in polls - dreadful candidate - then he badmouthed Travellers and instantly shot up in the polls, attracting 342,000 votes.

If Grealish was worried about Ireland he wouldn't have suppressed those figures. He was working on securing his seat.

There's a large minority of people who deeply hate other people for one reason or another. They vote.

Slagging hard-working Nigerians, with no evidence, is racism.

But I don't know if Mr Grealish believes the things he said, nor do I care.

I don't know if he's a genuine racist, but I bet the racists believe he is.

Sunday Independent