'Our own people' should come first before we help immigrants – TD claims

Independent TD Michael Collins has claimed Irish people who are “hungry on the street” should be prioritised over immigrants.

The remarks came as he defended another Independent TD, Noel Grealish, who was heavily criticised after claiming that African migrants “sponge off the system”.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin branded the comments by both TDs as “very dangerous”.

Mr Grealish has not spoken publicly about his contribution at a public meeting on a possible direct provision centre in Oughterard, Co Galway.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and others have called on him to withdraw his controversial comments.

Mr Collins defended Mr Grealish, suggesting that “sometimes in the heat of the moment, you might say something that you maybe look back on maybe you shouldn’t have said” and went on to make his own observations about immigration.

On C103 Radio, he claimed rural communities weren’t consulted on new direct provision centres and said one or two families could be accommodated, but not 50.

“How are we talking about bringing so many thousand people maybe into this country… when we haven’t looked after our own people? Why are our own people hungry in the street?” Mr Collins asked.

“Look after our own people first and then when that issue is sorted, let’s start looking at people from across the world.”

Mr Collins also claimed “we’re losing our culture here”.

He denied he was racist and said: “I don’t say that we should lock the doors… I’m just saying we don’t bring in… the heavy influx of people into local and rural communities.”

He made criticisms of the existing direct provision centres, claiming that the immigrants living there were being treated badly.

Mr Howlin said he viewed the remarks by both TDs as “very dangerous”.

He said Irish people had been migrants in the past and most people here were welcoming of newcomers who may have experienced “appalling persecution” in their past.

Mr Collins accused Mr Howlin of being “out of touch with reality”.

In the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said there hadn’t been communications with people in Oughterard because any plans for a refugee centre were in the initial stages.

He said that Wicklow Town and Lisdoonvarna were examples of places where asylum seekers were accommodated, and communications with communities allayed fears and corrected “scare stories”.

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