“The Immigrant Council has said comments by Independent TD Noel Grealish that €10 billion has been sent abroad most especially to Nigeria over the last eight years are “shameful”.
The council said that remittances are an essential part of migration and part of the Irish experience for generations.
Mr Grealish’s comments were branded as “racist” after he made the remarks in the Dáil.
The Galway West TD told the Dáil that the money has been sent to countries such as Poland, Nigeria, the UK and France.
He asked if Revenue or the Department of Finance had any way of tracking where this money was coming from.
Amid palpable tension in the Dáil chamber, Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger said the question was an example of disgraceful racism.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he did not know where Mr Grealish was going with this question and that Irish people had always historically sent money home from the US.
A spokesperson for the Immigrant Council said that that Mr Grealish’s comments “seems to be ungrounded and based on an uneducated interpretation of out of context information”.
The spokesperson said that “scrutinising only one group of migrants for what all migrants do, including Irish living abroad, is shameful”.
She said the Taoiseach’s reaction was “to be applauded”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said that CSO figures indicated that, across many years, the figure has been around €17 million a year.
Mr Donohoe said there are very clear laws in Ireland that look at the issue of remittances, behaviour and flows of money that could be in any way suspicious.
He said he was certainly not aware that there are flows of funding from Ireland to any country that is a cause for criminal investigation at the moment.
The minister said he believed Mr Grealish should make clear why he is singling out a particular country from outside the EU.
Meanwhile, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said the question asked by Mr Grealish was “disgusting and potentially dangerous”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Miriam, Mr Murphy said Deputy Grealish has questions to answer about “what he was trying to do by asking such a question”.
He added that he believes that what Deputy Grealish was trying to do was “bigger than just a single question.”
In September 2019, he faced criticism and calls to resign after he made comments about asylum seekers, described by some commentators as racist, which described all African asylum seekers as “spongers.”
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, after being told during an interview what Grealish had said, remarked “If that’s what he said, he should withdraw those remarks and make a statement on it and clarify them.”
Fellow Independent TD Michael Collins defended Grealish in a radio interview, in which he claimed Ireland was “losing its culture” because of immigrants and suggested that Ireland should “look after our own people first and then when that issue is sorted, let’s start looking at people from across the world”. For this, both he and Grealish were criticised in Irish political circles, with Labour leader Brendan Howlin calling the pair “highly dangerous”, while Irish President Michael D. Higgins, while not directly referencing them, publicly rejected their rhetoric, suggesting it was not factual that Immigrants were replacing people in Ireland, and that Immigrants accounted for a high percentage of Ireland’s GDP.
Grealish courted further criticism on November 12, when he claimed in the Dáil that immigrants in Ireland were sending vast sums of money out of the country, and singled out Nigerian residents in Ireland, claiming they were sending “€3.5 Billion” in funds back to relatives in Nigeria.
Grealish went on to suggest this amount could have been generated by crime. Ruth Coppinger rose to her feet and called Grealish’s remarks “Disgraceful racism”.
Responding to his question, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called on Grealish to present “any evidence” that the funds were generated by crime, while also citing the long history of Irish emigrants sending money back to Ireland. The Central Statistics Office of Ireland debunked his reading of the statistics on November 13, correcting him by stating the amount being sent back was only €17 Million. Furthermore, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe called on Grealish to clarify why he focused specifically on Nigerians and to justify his presentation of his figures. Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said he didn’t like what Grealish was insinuating and referred to his rhetoric as “disgusting and potentially dangerous.