Peter Casey criticises Varadkar for ‘telling people not to vote for me’

Presidential hopeful says middle Ireland is being squeezed and not represented

Peter Casey: ‘The Taoiseach knows I’m not racist. I’m not saying anything that shouldn’t be said’. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Peter Casey: ‘The Taoiseach knows I’m not racist. I’m not saying anything that shouldn’t be said’. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Presidential candidate Peter Casey has criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney for calling him “racist” and “for getting involved in the presidential election.”

Mr Casey said their comments were “going against the spirit of the Constitution”.

Last week, Mr Casey spent several days defending comments he made denying Traveller ethnicity, and claiming that the community does not play its full part in society.

Speaking to journalists at the European summit in Brussels last week after Mr Casey’s comments, Mr Varadkar said: “All I can say is that I think that his remarks are very divisive, and they were largely designed to get attention for his campaign. I think that’s really regrettable.

“And I hope that when the people of Ireland go out to vote next Friday they will give Mr Casey and anyone else who holds these kind of views a very clear message.”

Separately, the Tánaiste also sharply rebuked Mr Casey last week and accused him of trying to build a profile by feeding a prejudice that should not be stoked up.

Mr Casey said that through his comments Mr Varadkar was interfering in the election process “telling people not to vote for me.”

The Dragon’s Den mentor and businessman said he had been very hurt, “shook and annoyed” by Mr Varadkar’s comments. “The Taoiseach knows I’m not racist. I’m not saying anything that shouldn’t be said.”

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast on Monday, Mr Casey said that he had been considering dropping out of the presidential race, but having received over 3,000 emails from people encouraging him not withdraw, he had changed his mind.

He again defended his comments about the Travelling community saying it was a discussion that needed to be heard. Social housing is now the country’s biggest problem, he said.

When it was pointed out to him that as president he could not comment on such issues, he said: “You can suggest what you want when you are president, you just can’t say anything against government policy.”

He also clarified comments he made about Ireland being a “welfare state”. Middle Ireland was being squeezed, he said, with hard working people getting up early every morning to work two jobs and still they could not get on the housing ladder.

On being told about the Taoiseach’s comments that he represented people who get up early in the morning, Mr Casey replied: “Leo needs to get up a bit earlier. He is not representing them.

“I know I am resonating with people. I am saying things that need to be said. It’s about time that someone said something. The people of middle Ireland are not being represented.”