Controversy as Varadkar faces questions on Noel Grealish, direct provision and Brexit on Morning Ireland
A tough interview for the Taoiseach.
On Friday morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar joined Gavin Jennings on Morning Ireland for a wide-ranging discussion that included Brexit, the prospect of a general election, direct provision and recent comments by TD Noel Grealish on immigration.
On Brexit, Varadkar said he did trust his UK counterpart Boris Johnson, and that there was contact open between his team and Johnson's, as well as the government and the DUP — though he noted direct negotiation would only be carried out by the EU and the UK government.
Asked whether insistence on the backstop meant the EU was prioritising the single market over the Good Friday Agreement, Varadkar said there was no choice, and put forward the argument that it is the UK jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement by leaving the European Union without a deal.
The Fine Gael leader was also asked for his opinion on remarks made by Independent TD Noel Grealish on the subject of immigration.
Speaking to a citizen's meeting in Galway, Grealish said:
"Even three weeks ago, our Taoiseach said he'd take an extra 200 migrants from Africa.
"These are economic migrants, these are people who are coming over here from Africa to sponge off the system here in Ireland."
Later, Grealish stated:
"We don't know these people that are coming in. I can guarantee you, it's not the persecuted Christians and Syrians coming here.
"It's the people, the economic refugees that's coming in from Africa."
Grealish's comments have been criticised by other high-profile Irish politicians such as Ming Flanagan, Paul Murphy and Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly.
In the interview, Varadkar mistakenly said that there was no recording of the incident, though a video of Grealish's statements can indeed be found on social media.
The Taoiseach said that if Grealish did indeed make the purported statements then he should either clarify or withdraw them.
Asked if the government should abolish direct provision, @LeoVaradkar asks what it would be replaced with - and says it’s something the state “offers” to people. “It’s not compulsory ... you can leave at any time.” @morningireland
— Ellen Coyne (@ellenmcoyne) September 13, 2019
Questioned on the matter of direct provision, Varadkar said that it was not compulsory and that individuals are free to leave it "at any time."
Varadkar's remarks have caused consternation on social media, as those in direct provision are not permitted to work in Ireland or avail of state welfare, meaning direct provision is the only feasible means by which asylum seekers can survive.
There are over 5,000 people in direct provision, many of whom have fled war-torn countries where there is immediate concern for their safety.