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Peter Casey challenged over immigration during European elections tv debate

“What we can’t afford is to become a haven for freeloaders,” Casey told the Sunday Times.

Candidates speaking to Áine Lawlor during RTÉ during The Week In Politics
Candidates speaking to Áine Lawlor during RTÉ during The Week In Politics
Image: Screengrab via RTÉ Player

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION candidate Peter Casey has said “we can’t have people coming into Ireland illegally and staying here” as he was questioned on comments he made about “freeloaders” coming to Ireland.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, the former president candidate called for “freeloaders” who came to Ireland to be “put back on the plane”. 

“What we can’t afford is to become a haven for freeloaders: people who come in because they know that Ireland won’t deport them and will give them accommodation, will give them education, will give them medical services,” Casey told the newspaper. 

“We should take in our fair share of refugees; however, we can’t afford economic migrants to come in and we shouldn’t be forced to. We [should] put them on a plane and give them a ticket back,” he said. 

Casey today appeared on RTÉ One’s The Week In Politics for a studio debate ahead of next month’s European elections. 

He was joined by fellow candidates Maria Walsh of Fine Gael, Brendan Smith of Fianna Fáil, Matt Carty of Sinn Féin and Independent Luke Ming Flanagan.

During the debate, presenter Áine Lawlor asked all candidates if they agree with the principle of free movement within the single market, to which they agreed.

“I think freedom of movement within the EU but we can’t have people coming into Ireland illegally and staying here and expecting to be housed and educated and looked after,” Casey said.

Lawlor asked candidates if they agree that Ireland is taking its fair share of migrants and refugees within the EU.

Fianna Fáil’s Brendan Smith said that Europe needs a “migration policy” before turning to address Casey’s comments in the Sunday Times. 

“Europe needs a migration policy but apart from ensuring that people come here who are fleeing torture and horror and war … those people are not freeloaders, Peter,” Smith said. 

Smith added that Europe needs to deal with the issues that causes these people to flee their countries. 

Lawlor then quizzed Casey on whether people from Syria are those he would call “freeloaders”.

“No, absolutely not. Anybody who is coming from a war-torn area, we absolutely have a responsibility to take our allocation and we should,” Casey said.

“We should give them a passport, we should give help them…” he said.

Casey said Ireland should “take our fair allocation” of refugees but that “we should look after them when we bring them in and we should not put them in sort of an almost jail without walls which is what you call direct provision camps”.

“If they are genuine refugees, we should take our allocation, we should look after them properly. If we’re not going to do that we shouldn’t bring them in the first place, it would be disingenuous,” he said.

Moving to the other candidates, Luke Ming Flanagan said that “if we didn’t have a housing crisis we wouldn’t have the small bit of animosity that is there towards refugees”. 

Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy said: “I think what we need to do, first of all, is actually treat those asylum seekers who are in Ireland with dignity, the direct provision centre should be an absolute source of shame to everybody in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.”

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s Marie Walsh said that “Ireland is richer when we have free movement and the fact that we’re supporting other EU countries, I think it’s absolutely integral”.

Voting for the European Parliament elections takes place on 24 May. 

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