Migrant workers should come second to local people in the battle for jobs in a shrinking market, a Stormont minister has said.
Citizens of the UK should enjoy its privileges before those from other countries, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson added.
He said workers from areas like eastern Europe or Portugal had demonstrated their flexibility by coming here and with fewer family ties had more opportunity to move again as the recession bites across Northern Ireland.
“In any country citizenship confers certain privileges on people. It has obligations to its own citizens before those of other countries, otherwise what is the value of citizenship?” the East Antrim Assembly member asked.
“The European Union is a combination of nation-states and the people of those states are citizens of their own countries. I would make a distinction between someone from Europe and the UK.”
Workers from Poland, Lithuania and Portugal have been among those moving to Northern Ireland during the boom. Many worked in the service industry, agriculture or manufacturing, sending money home to their families. But the weakening pound and competition for jobs from the newly unemployed has made that less attractive.At one stage there were estimates of 60,000 people from ethnic minorities here, according to the Concordia Partnership.
Meanwhile unemployment has risen at a rate not seen since 1971.
Mr Wilson said those with skills in short supply should stay.
But he added: “Do you really want to put someone from here on the dole and have to pay for their upkeep, family and lifestyle when someone who has chosen themselves to be mobile could be the one in employment?”
Alliance Party leader David Ford said Mr Wilson needed to be careful about what he said and that there should be no return to the discrimination of the past.
“It does not matter whether people come from Carrickfergus, Craigavon or Krakow (Poland), the best person for a job should always get the job,” he said.