Casey bares his teeth as he targets Captain Wonderful

Candidate says Higgins fails to inspire and should ‘take the pensions and have a nice seven years’

 Peter Casey and his wife Helen at the EPIC centre in Dublin for the official launch of his presidential campaign. Photograph:  Brian Lawless/PA

Peter Casey and his wife Helen at the EPIC centre in Dublin for the official launch of his presidential campaign. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA


Earlier this week at the Tory party conference, Theresa May sashayed uneasily to the stage to the strains of Dancing Queen.

If background music had been playing as Peter Casey glided to the podium at his official election campaign launch on Friday it would have to be John Williams score to the 1977 movie Jaws.

It all started in such calm conditions. Casey was introduced by his wife Helen and gave a speech that was so benign and harmless it caused no ripples.

So far so deeply uneventful in the small room in CHQ on Dublin’s North Quay. Next door was the Celtic-themed exhibition, Epic. Until now the exhibition on display here was whatever is the antonym to Epic.

But then, just when we thought it was safe to go in the water, one of the reporters casually tossed bait into it. Suddenly from nowhere a pointy fin appeared above the surface as a shark began to zone in on its target. And the prey in this case was an experienced skipper called Captain Wonderful who had been at the helm of the boat for a long seven years.

While all the other five candidates have given him wide berth, Casey alone has had no hesitation in going on the attack, and churning up the waters.

He has an unusual style of delivery. He’s not strong at formal speeches and seems almost hesitant in his delivery. But the sotto voce stuff is deceptive – his attacks carry teeth, make no mistake about it.

He started off recalling a conversation he had with a taxi driver several weeks ago who made the Plato-like observation that President Higgins “does nothing and costs us a fortune”. (Why am I not surprised and why is it so many presidential candidates use conversations with taxi drivers as their measure for the mood of the country?)

In any instance, that resonated deeply with Casey, who was now focused only on his prey.

“The President should be inspiring people,” he declaimed. “He was very good with the Queen [during his visit to the UK] but that is the only memorable thing. I don’t give him points for meeting the Queen.”

“He has not inspired the presidency in the way the previous presidents had inspired it’.

The Captain Wonderful stuff has clearly irked him since he sat through the presentation of other candidates to county councils. He is no fan of what he sees as the fawning attitude of other candidates and the media to the incumbent.

He said when he visited county councils he had to listen to other candidates, especially Seán Gallagher, say how wonderful the president was.

British monarchy

“My question to Seán was, if he is that wonderful why do you want to stop him having a second term?

“He has no answer for that. Or if you think you were more wonderful when did he stop being wonderful?”

Asked when he himself thought the President ceased being wonderful, Mr Casey: “He stopped being wonderful two or three years ago.”

And without pausing for breath, he had statistics to hand. He said Higgins had made 535 engagements in the first year but had subsequently dropped to 320. That was a drop-off of 42 per cent.”

That wasn’t all. Now warming to his theme, he said Mr Higgins had “skipped out” of two debates. The reason he could not attend one of them was an appointment to meet a member of the British monarchy, who Casey said was only a minor royal, “number 10 in line to the throne” no less.

“He had an opportunity to explain [himself in the debate] but he went off and went for a cup of tea [with the British royal).”

So if you’re breaking the decorum of the campaign, you might as well go the full way. He finished with another bite at Captain Wonderful.

“I am the only one who is saying that he is not Santa Claus. He should take the pensions and have a nice seven years.”

Captain Wonderful will easily survive anything his most adversarial rival will throw at him. But, if nothing else, Casey’s disruptive approach to this campaign has taken it out of the doldrums in which it had been caught for the past ten days.