Peter Casey considers withdrawing from Áras race after Traveller comments

Casey says he doesn’t want to get elected ‘just based on one statement I made’

Presidential candidate Peter Casey has said he is considering withdrawing from the Áras race in light of the continuing controversy over his comments about Travellers. Video: Kathleen Harris

 

Presidential candidate Peter Casey has said he is considering withdrawing from the Presidential race in light of the continuing controversy over his comments about Travellers.

In a statement issued on Friday morning, Mr Casey said he is taking the weekend off to reflect on his remaining in the race. In a radio interview later he said he would announce his decision by Monday.

The development was unexpected but comes after the Donegal-based businessman has spent several days defending comments he made denying Traveller ethnicity, and claiming that the community does not play its full part in society.

In the statement Mr Casey said he did not want his campaign to be dominated by one issue. Even if Mr Casey withdraws from the race, his name will still appear on the ballot paper, a spokesman from the Department of Housing and Local Government confirmed. Under Section 30 of the President Act 1993, no candidate’s name can be withdrawn after nominations have been confirmed by the returning officer. The would have happened on September 26th, the closing day for nominations to be accepted.

The row has dominated the Presidential campaign since he made the comments on Tuesday. However, Mr Casey himself refused to withdraw the comments, nor did he move to draw a line under the controversy.

Protesters speaking after Presidential Candidate Peter Casey visited Cabra Bridge, Thurles on Thursday speaking to members of the media. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Protesters speaking after Presidential Candidate Peter Casey visited Cabra Bridge, Thurles on Thursday speaking to members of the media. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

He reiterated his stance by scheduling a visit to a new housing estate in Co Tipperary on Thursday. Local travellers refused to move into the estate of six houses because of a row over grazing land for their horses. Mr Casey said that their refusal was “selfish” and “nonsense” given there was a homeless crisis in Dublin.

On his visit to the site on Thursday, the former Dragon’s Den panellist declined to meet with the local family, the McCarthys, who were due to move into the estate. He said he did not want to intrude on their privacy. He rejected the charge that his comments were racist, saying: “There is not a racist bone in my body.”

He argued his point was he did not accept Travellers were a separate ethnic group. Local Traveller families and their representatives held a protest immediately after his departure and accused him of “racism”.

As the row continued to escalate on Thursday night, Mr Casey issued a statement on Friday morning. It read: “In light of the events of the past few days, I am taking the weekend off from the campaign to think carefully about whether to continue in the race.

“I do not want the people of Ireland to elect me as President of Ireland just based on one statement I made.

“I want to be of service, and make a real difference. I have the expertise and ability to be an influencer. I want to connect people, at home and abroad. I know that my world experience and global views will make me a uniquely suitable candidate for President of Ireland - with drive, ability and energy.”

‘I promised my mother’

He told RTÉ’s News at One that that he did not know that the ethnic status of Travellers is protected legally.

“I did not know about the ethnic status. There are so many things going on. It’s only in the last year that I have been back in Ireland full time.

He denied that he was racist or that his comments had been racist. “I thought we were way beyond this. Ireland is now a melting pot of people from all over the world. The proclamation says ‘cherish all the people of the nation’.”

Mr Casey said he had not been pitting the Travelling Community against the homeless. He was amazed that houses in Tipperary were empty because of a dispute about land for horses.

The candidate said he will take the weekend to discuss his decision with his wife, family and advisers. The last 48 hours had been strange, he admitted.

“I was accused of being racist. That is absolutely not what my campaign is about. I promised my mother that I would stand for President, but she wouldn’t want me to get elected on this platform.”

Mr Casey repeated numerous times that he was not racist and hadn’t a “racist bone” in his body. “I grew up in Derry at a time when you couldn’t get a job if you were Catholic,” he added.

Presidential candidates Peter Casey, Sean Gallagher, Liadh Ní Ríada, Michael D Higgins, Joan Freeman and Gavin Duffy pictured alongside Peter Kenny at Virgin Media Television’s Presidential Debate.
Presidential candidates Peter Casey, Sean Gallagher, Liadh Ní Ríada, Michael D Higgins, Joan Freeman and Gavin Duffy pictured alongside Peter Kenny at Virgin Media Television’s Presidential Debate.

Reacting to the news, President Michael D Higgins said he thought it was a good idea for Mr Casey to take the weekend to reflect on his campaign.

“Reflection is good, I wish him well,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

Mr Higgins said that Mr Casey knew of his reaction to the controversial comments on the Travelling community. “They were appalling comments.”

He added that he likes to think that Mr Casey’s comments were an aberration and not a cynical attempt to use one of the most vulnerable communities for political advantage.

Gavin Duffy, who is also a candidate, said he would like to see Mr Casey withdraw his comments about Travellers but not withdraw from the race.

“I think he should be given time to reflect over the weekend about his position and confirm it on Sunday night. It is an academic discussion because he will be on the ballot paper next Friday regardless if he withdraws or not,” he said.

“I would like to see him withdraw the comments because there was great offence caused to the Travelling community,” he told RTÉ Six One.