Peter Casey: ‘Whoever wins it, it will not be President Michael D Higgins’

Businessman and former ‘Dragons’ Den’ investor seeks presidential nomination

Peter Casey (60) on the set of ‘Dragons’ Den’, RTÉ

Peter Casey (60) on the set of ‘Dragons’ Den’, RTÉ

 

According to the latest opinion poll and the received political wisdom, Michael D Higgins is as good as a certainty to be re-elected as president.

The poll for the Irish Daily Mail had the incumbent receiving 65 per cent of the vote, but it came before a raft of new candidates declared an interest in contesting the October 26th election.

One of them is Co Derry-born businessman Peter Casey (60), who founded the global recruitment business Claddagh Resources in Atlanta in the US in 1995. He is known to some for his past role as an investor on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den programme.

“Whoever wins it, it will not be President Michael D Higgins,” Casey says of the election. “You should take a wee bet at Paddy Power. You’ll get good odds and you will win.”

He adds: “I question the polls that suggest [Higgins] is so popular. I believe I have a reasonable chance. I have a strong platform.”

Casey says the nation owes Senator Gerard Craughwell, “a debt”. He tried to ensure Higgins was not returned without an election, before saying he would not contest the poll himself.

“In a democracy, it is totally wrong that a person should not be challenged,” says Casey.

He believes Higgins got an easy ride in the 2011 campaign and that this time “the Irish people will look and see if there are better alternatives”.

Higgins has “certainly not embarrassed the presidency”, he says, though he believes the President should not have visited Cuba.

“I don’t believe in him supporting governments that are totalitarian and undemocratic at the Irish taxpayers’ expense.”

‘Obscene’

The presidential salary is €325,507 a year, but Higgins earns €249,014 after keeping up a voluntary pay cut taken by his predecessor Mary McAleese during the downturn.

Casey believes the salary is “just obscene” and that it is “wrong” the position comes with a salary greater than the €192,000 earned by the taoiseach, who has executive powers that the president does not have.

If elected, he says he would donate his salary every month to county councils to distribute to charities. He says it is a coincidence that he will need the backing of at least four councils to get on the ballot paper.

In recent years, Casey bought a home in Co Donegal and considered standing as a general election candidate in the northwest. However, he decided not to as he wanted his youngest child to finish school in the US. He has since sold his house in Atlanta with a view to moving back to Ireland permanently.

Casey did attempt to win a seat in the Seanad in 2016, after being nominated by the employers’ lobby group, Ibec, for a place on the House’s Industrial and Commercial panel. He did not secure one of the nine seats but says the campaign was “an eye-opening experience for me”.

The seat he held on Dragons’ Den for two seasons means he is familiar with Gavin Duffy and Seán Gallagher, two other investors from the reality TV show who are also seeking a nomination to run for the presidency.

‘Big nation’

Casey’s manifesto is more concerned with the Irish abroad than at home, which reflects his years in Australia and the US. His slogan is “small country, big nation” and his big idea is to connect the “power of the Irish diaspora” to those back in the State.

“We are fighting way below our weight as a nation. We should have more influence in the world than we currently have,” he said.

He is advocating an Irish birthright programme similar to the one that operates in Israel, which sees Jewish children living in the US spending time in Israel learning about the country. This could lead to future investment, he says.

Casey also suggests the presidency could be used to promote Massive Online Open Course learning, which he says is “going to do for education what iTunes has done for music”.

“We used to be known as the land of saints and scholars. We can be again.”

Casey is opposed to a liberal abortion regime but says he would sign whatever legislation arises out of May’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment into law if elected.

“It is not up to the president to decide what becomes law and what doesn’t,” he adds. “The people have spoken.”

This article was amended on August 31st to reflect the fact that President Higgins has not visited Venezuela, as Mr Casey suggested.