Peter Casey accused of playing Trump card on Tipperary trip
Candidate refuses to retract Traveller remarks on visit to controversial estate
In a bizarre twist, the most significant battleground of this presidential campaign has been a quiet rural road a few kilometres outside Thurles in Co Tipperary.
On one side of the road is a brand new estate of six detached houses, with pristine white walls and dark grey doors, their solar panels winking in the bright autumn sun.
Right across the road, on high ground above a disused bridge, caravans and trailers were visible and a group of curious children peered down on the crowd below, with a balcony view of the political theatre going on there.
The businessman Peter Casey had arrived at Cabra Bridge yesterday afternoon to have a look at the fenced-off housing estate and talk to the media. He was surrounded by a huge contingent of reporters and camerapeople and there was also a large Garda presence.
That housing estate has become the focus of the biggest row in the campaign, with accusations of racism, dog-whistle politics and Trumpian tactics. It began when Mr Casey complained that local Travellers had refused to move into the houses because they were demanding to also have stables and land for their horses, which the Travellers dispute. This refusal was “disgraceful and selfish”, he claimed, when there are homeless people in Dublin. He then widened his attack by denying Traveller ethnicity and accusing Travellers of not paying their fair share of taxes.
And so Mr Casey stood outside the estate on Thursday and again refused to withdraw any of his assertions. When repeatedly asked if he was racist, he replied: “There is not a racist bone in my body.”
He talked of other nationalities arriving into Ireland and integrating into society, and reiterated his view that Travellers were not a separate ethnic group. He denied this was all a stunt, a strategy to increase his profile.
“This just happened. I’m not as politically correct as some other people are. Let’s just find out.”
He very consciously did not meet the family involved in the housing dispute. His take was that he did not want to intrude on their privacy. When it all finished, he turned and walked away.
As he departed to the bridge, the group of Travellers and their supporters moved in, carrying placards, with many comparing Mr Casey to Donald Trump.
Margaret Casey did not mince her words. Mr Casey is “very racist towards the Travelling community”, she said, adding that he was “not fit to be President of Ireland, in my opinion”.
The Travellers present also disputed the contention that the McCarthy family had sought stables and land, merely saying that they wanted grazing land for their horses. “We keep 12 horses,” said Barry McCarthy, adding that his family would prefer to stay across the road in the halting site with grazing than to move into the estate without grazing.
“Peter Casey is talking very bad about us and talking down to us,” he said. He was also angry that Mr Casey had walked away without meeting them.
Hit a nerve
Another of Mr Casey’s assertions – that Travellers “are not paying their fair share of taxes in society” – hit a raw nerve with TJ Hogan.
“We have Travellers in third-level education. I am a social policy writer and a Travelling man who went through third-level education. It is wrong what Peter Casey is saying,” he said.
“We contribute in so many ways but we are denied employment through racism,” he said. (Earlier, in Cork, Mr Casey had said he apologised to any Traveller who paid their taxes.)
“It’s a media stunt,” railed Mr Hogan. “We all see how Donald Trump in America got his presidency. He has taken a page out of that. To be honest he is fuelling his campaign with hatred and racism. It’s not right that he is targeting one community of only 40,000 people.”
The huge group of media, protesters and gardaí slowly dispersed, leaving a rural road in Co Tipperary basking silently in the afternoon sunshine.