Micheál Martin: Don’t read too much into Peter Casey result

Politicians and media too quick to dismiss Casey comments, says Fianna Fáil leader

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the  Cork city presidential election count. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the Cork city presidential election count. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has warned about the dangers of reading too much into the relative success of Peter Casey, whose vote is set to surge above 20 per cent.

Mr Martin congratulated President Michael D Higgins on his anticipated re-election while speaking at the count centre in Nemo Rangers GAA club, Cork. Mr Higgins was expected to top the poll in both Cork North Central and Cork South Central constituencies and Mr Martin said the President’s first term in office had clearly impressed voters.

“I want to congratulate Michael D Higgins on an outstanding performance. He got a massive vote without question and it’s a very massive endorsement of his presidency and reflects my own view at the start of the election that he was best placed to represent us for the next seven years.

“But we have to be extremely cautious about drawing implications from a presidential election and relating them to a general election, local elections or indeed European elections. But it’s fair to say that Peter Casey has performed very well from a personal perspective.”

Mr Martin said that Mr Casey’s vote clearly distinguished him from the other candidates and he got a platform and profile from his comments on Travellers. And while the Fianna Fáil leader believes it did suggest not everyone was happy with how things were in society, he urged caution in extrapolating from it.

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Mr Martin said that both politicians and media commentators were possibly too quick to dismiss Mr Casey’s comments about Travellers. But he knew from his own ministerial experience in health and education that improving outcomes for Travellers required “a hard slog”.

“My only comment is that the soundbite part of it is easy bit, the actual substance part of the follow through is much difficult. And I was listening to Peter this morning and I didn’t get any clear coherent sense of ideas that he wants to take forward,” he said.

“I heard Peter describe himself as a compassionate socialist and a compassionate capitalist in the same sentence. So it’s seemed this morning that he was almost heading towards a middle ground very quickly and Irish people are different to the American system and how we conduct our politics.”

Mr Martin said he recognised that Mr Casey may have struck a chord with the electorate that would explain his surge from 1 to 2 per cent in the opinion polls to more than 20 per cent.

“But I don’t get a sense of a lurch to the right in Ireland. And this is a presidential election, people may feel a bit more liberty to vote in a certain direction and will vote differently in a general election because it’s a about the formation of a government and differently too in local election and European elections.

Mr Martin said he believed the low turnout reflected a failure by the campaigns to interest the public.

“I think the debates were poor . . . let’s call a spade a spade. The energy was sapping out of it halfway through the debates.

“One of the dominant influences from way out was the personality of Michael D Higgins. There was a sense the Irish people felt he had done a good job and represented us well. He has the intellectual capacity and is also on the ground a sporting occasions, it was very hard to erode that popularity.”

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