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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Eamonn Farrell/ File photo. Noel Grealish.
# Noel Grealish
Taoiseach calls on Galway TD to withdraw remarks made at direct provision centre public meeting
Footage shared on social media shows Noel Grealish referencing “economic migrants” from Africa coming to “sponge off us”.

THE TAOISEACH HAS called on TD who frequently supports the government to make a statement on remarks he made at a public meeting about whether a direct provision centre should be built in Oughterard in Galway.

Footage shared on social media shows independent TD Noel Grealish – in reference to commitments the government has made on accepting refugees into the country – saying “these are economic migrants” from Africa who would come to Ireland to “sponge off the system”. 

At Wednesday’s event, which was attended by around 700 people, there were a number of locals venting their frustration over a lack of consultation regarding ongoing refurbishment works at the Connemara Gateway Hotel which has been closed for a number of years. 

Locals have expressed concerns – covering a spectrum of issues – about what it means for the town if the building becomes accommodation for asylum seekers. 

Grealish said at the meeting that there were Christian Syrian families who’d been persecuted and “hounded out of their own country by Isis”. 

“It’s the economic refugees that’s coming in from Africa,” he said. “A major city can absorb 300 refugees but not a small town like Oughterard.”

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Varadkar said he thought it’d be “helpful” if Grealish “clarified his remarks”, while adding he hadn’t heard any audio of what Grealish was reported to have said. 

“I think he should make a statement on it,” Varadkar continued, saying that there was no formal agreement with Grealish but the Galway West TD usually voted with the government anyway. 

Grealish is a member of the Rural Independent Group, a collection of TDs who decide on a case-by-case basis whether to support the government. 

Later, the Taoiseach told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland: “If that’s what he said, he should withdraw those remarks and make a statement on it and clarify them.”

Galway TD Catherine Connolly had already described the meeting as “one of the most difficult meetings” she had attended.

Connolly has now called for clarity from the Department of Justice regarding the situation in Oughterard. 

“The Department of Justice are not covering themselves in glory, they’re not learning from debacle to debacle,” the TD told

“I think the absence of information and the absence of openness is allowing a vacuum to develop which is not helpful and it’s inciteful.”

Connolly added that continued secrecy from the department helps neither local communities nor asylum seekers. 

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan also said yesterday that he was “very disappointed at some of the commentary coming from Oughterard”. 

He confirmed that a number of possible premises were being looked at for the centre, when asked about Oughterard.

“And I want to again, underline that this is the most complex issue,” he said. “We don’t as a government have too many choices, in terms of fulfilling and living up to our international obligations. We are obliged.

“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,” the minister added. 

Local councillors have also said nobody in Oughterard knows if the search for locations for asylum centres is related to the work that is underway at the hotel.

The Department also recently issued a €65 million tender for new direct provision centres for Co Kildare, Co Wicklow, Co Meath and Co Louth to provide accommodation and services to international protection applicants.

Since 2018, the Department has struggled to open new centres due to arson attacks at hotels in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border.

Locals have consistently raised concerns that communities are not properly consulted by the Department ahead of contracts being signed with private business owners. 

With reporting from Cónal Thomas, Christina Finn