Comments made by Noel Grealish questioning the legitimacy of money being transferred from Ireland to Nigeria are “wildly outlandish”, Simon Harris has said.
Mr Grealish, the Independent TD for Galway West, has been called racist and “a disgrace” by fellow TDs after he asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if the government was ensuring that all money transferred by private individuals to non-EU countries was being properly taxed.
“Over 10 billion euro (£8.5 billion) has left this country by way of personal transfers. This is a staggering amount of money,” he said.
He focused on Nigeria, which in the past five years has received the largest sum, with a total of 3.54 billion euro sent.
I think it is reprehensible for anyone to engage in the politics of division perhaps for a cheap headline or for the shock factorSimon Harris
Mr Grealish described the amount of money being sent to Nigeria as “astronomical” and said that while he believed a lot of the transfers were genuine, he wanted to know if the Department of Finance or the Revenue Commissioners had mechanisms in place to ensure it was “not the proceeds of crime and fraud”.
He added: “I know a lot of it is genuine money but I want to ensure proper controls are in place for money being sent out of the country.”
Speaking at an event in Dublin on Wednesday morning, health minister Simon Harris said the remarks made by Mr Grealish were disappointing.
“Deputy Grealish made a number of wildly outlandish statements; I don’t think he produced the evidence to back it up.
“We should be able to have a mature discussion about immigration and how we put into place supports for communities but I think it is reprehensible for anyone to engage in the politics of division perhaps for a cheap headline or for the shock factor.
I'm proud to be from a county that prides itself on Cead Mile Failte - the land of a thousand welcomes. A country that knows emigration and immigrationSimon Harris
“If that is what he set out to achieve, that is what he has done. It does nothing to help build an inclusive society,” he said.
“I think it is really disappointing that people would try and sow the seeds of division.”
“I’m proud to be from a county that prides itself on Cead Mile Failte – the land of a thousand welcomes. A country that knows emigration and immigration.
“Indeed in Deputy Grealish’s own constituency of Galway, many people would have travelled to the United States and sent money home,” he said.
“I am the minister for health who knows the value of people coming from abroad to work in our health service. We have so many excellent clinicians working in our health service who have come from abroad,” he said.
“They were very disappointing comments. We are living in an increasingly divided world… in the United States we see a lot of division.
“In Britain, regardless of your views on Brexit – the politics of division has taken hold. We have not really had that in Ireland. We have managed to see really successful integration,” he said.
“There is a duty of care of those of us who hold public office to sow the seeds of inclusion and not the likes of Peter Casey-esque rhetoric,” he said.
Finance minister Paschal Donohoe told RTE radio Mr Grealish should clarify why he singled out a particular country from outside the EU regarding the amount of remittances being sent.