Pressure on Noel Grealish to withdraw claim Africans 'sponge off the system'

Independent TD Noel Grealish brazenly appeared in public amid the ongoing storm about his African “spongers” remarks, but has failed to address the controversy.

Mr Grealish is under mounting pressure to apologise for a claim that African migrants “sponge off the system” after a video emerged of a public meeting in Oughterard, Co Galway.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is among those who insisted Mr Grealish should withdraw the remarks, which were made in reference to a possible new direct provision centre.

But the Taoiseach is himself under pressure, as the Galway West TD often supports the Government in Dáil votes.

Mr Grealish has sustained severe criticism for the comments at a public meeting in Oughterard, Co Galway,  where a former hotel is believed to be a possible location for a new direct provision centre.

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin branded Mr Grealish’s comments as “poisonous” and called on the Taoiseach to clarify if the Government had any dealings with the Independent TD in return for his support.

It remained unclear last night whether the Taoiseach had contacted Mr Grealish directly in relation to the matter.

Mr Grealish yesterday attended a certification ceremony of successful students of Galway National Learning Network – the training division of Rehab Group.

WATCH: VIDEO: TD Noel Grealish claims some asylum seekers come to Ireland to ‘sponge off the system’

However, it is understood that he did not address the refugees controversy during this public appearance.

He has not responded to numerous attempts to contact him for comment by the Irish Independent.

The pressure increased after a video of Mr Grealish’s contribution to Wednesday night’s public meeting emerged on social media.

He said that he had previously worked with “genuine refugees” who were persecuted in Syria by Isil because they were Christian.

He said that the Government had recently agreed to take 200 more refugees from Africa.

“These are economic migrants. These are people that are coming over here from Africa to sponge off the system here in Ireland,” he claimed in the video.

Mr Grealish also added: “I can guarantee you, it’s not the persecuted Christians and Syrians coming here, it’s the people, the economic refugees that is coming in from Africa.

“A major city can absorb 300 refugees but not a small town like Oughterard.”

He urged those gathered there to “work together, stick together”.

Mr Grealish said that he wanted other politicians present to “give that same commitment here tonight that people will work to ensure that this does not happen”.

He claimed that it would “destroy the fabric of Oughterard”.

Mr Varadkar said that he had not heard a recording of the remarks himself. But he added: “If what’s said is true, I think he needs to withdraw those remarks and certainly issue a statement to clarify what he said.”

Mr Ó Ríordáin said that Mr Grealish’s comments were “outrageous”, “lowest common denominator stuff” and “deliberately divisive”.

He also pointed out that Mr Grealish often supports the Government in Dáil votes.

He said: “I would like to know, in the run-up to the Budget, is Noel Grealish having meetings with [Finance Minister] Paschal Donohoe?

“Does he have some kind of arrangement with the Taoiseach in order to get his support to vote for the Budget? If he does, then the Taoiseach needs to outline what that is.”

Mr Varadkar has insisted that there is no formal arrangement between Mr Grealish and the Government. He said: “He is an independent, very often votes with the Government, sometimes doesn’t.”

Mr Donohoe’s spokesperson last night said: “No request has come in.”

Mr Grealish was also urged to retract his remarks by chair of the Galway Anti-Racism Network Joe Loughnane, who is also a People Before Profit representative.

“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.

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