People who turn down housing offers should be put to end of waiting list - Casey

Presidential nominees criticise Peter Casey’s comments on the Traveller community

The first televised presidential debate featuring all six candidates was hosted by Pat Kenny on Virgin Media One and was dominated by the controversy surrounding Peter Casey's comments on Travellers . Video: Virgin Media One


Presidential candidate Peter Casey has said people who turn down “free houses” should be put to the bottom of the housing list.

“If you are offered a free house and a free home and you turn it down, I think, unless there is a disability [consideration] you should go to the bottom of the list,” he said at the latest debate on Wednesday night.

Mr Casey, who has stoked controversy following comments he made on the Traveller community on Wednesday, refused to back down from his position during the debate, televised by Virgin Media.

Asked about the issue by host Pat Kenny, the candidate said he did not believe a Traveller family in Co Tipperary should have rejected six homes built at a cost of €1.7 million.

He claimed the family had requested two stables per home and a half acre of land for horses. The details of the issue have been disputed.

“You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” Mr Casey said when it was put to him that the Traveller community would no longer like him.

He added that if a person was offered a free home and declined they should go to the bottom of the housing list.

Fellow candidate Gavin Duffy said Travellers were a part of Irish society with different requirements.

President Michael D Higgins said the awarding of special ethnic status to the Traveller community was enormously significant, while Sinn Féin candidate Liadh Ní Riada said Mr Casey’s remarks were offensive.

Mr Casey had sparked controversy over remarks he made regarding the Traveller community and his belief they should not be afforded a separate ethnic status.

He made the remarks on an Irish Independent podcast and stood firm when pressed on his views during a later RTÉ interview.

“The point is they are encouraged to think they are different. They are not. Everybody should be encouraged [to live] in an inclusive society,” he said.

Mr Casey’s comments drew criticism from Pavee Point, the Traveller representative organisation, which called on him to leave the presidential race.

Mr Casey, however, countered that the Traveller community had been poorly represented by Pavee Point.

‘Add it to the list’

Liadh Ní Riada was pressed on her attitude toward IRA violence. Asked in particular to give her views on the Enniskillen bombing, she said: “Any atrocities like that should be condemned” but said the IRA were gone and the new era should be built upon rather than revisiting the past.

President Higgins was challenged about not participating in all scheduled debates. He repeated the line that he had to balance his official duties with those of his candidacy.

“We said we will do as much as we can,” he said, referring to a number of election appearances he had committed to.

“I have been turning up since 1969 and I have stood in every election,” he added.

Challenged on his salary and expenses, President Higgins said he took a 23.6 per cent pay cut and had not drawn down either his Dáil or ministerial pensions since being in office.

He angrily dismissed several of Peter Casey’s assertions, denying he had flown to Zurich in a private jet and clarifying that a flight to Belfast was deemed necessary for security reasons.

“Just add it to the list,” he said, dismissing the claims levelled at him by Mr Casey.

The President also addressed the long-running issue of expenses, which has been debated at the Public Account Committee, given their (the expenses)relative lack of transparency. President Higgins said he had inherited the same expenses system that had pre-existed his term in office and that ultimately, all spending was signed off on by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Each candidate was asked to state their position on the issue of salary. Joan Freeman said she would take the entire €350,000 salary but use a portion of it to give awards to community volunteers.

Mr Casey said the remuneration should be in the region of €120,000 and that he would give his to charity, while Liadh Ní Riada, in a similar position, said it should be halved.

Sean Gallagher said for him the issue was transparency around expenses. He said it was “shocking” to learn they had not been audited under Michael D Higgins for the last four years.

Later, Gavin Duffy said it was “bizarre” that three of the candidates had come from the Dragon’s Den television programme. “I can only apologise,” he said.