Travellers protest over visit of Peter Casey to unoccupied homes in Tipperary
Presidential candidate says there is ‘not a racist bone in my body’
Members of the Traveller community protesting at the visit of presidential candidate Peter Casey to Cabra Bridge, Thurles on Thursday. Photograph: Alan Betson
Presidential candidate Peter Casey declined to meet members of the Traveller community who were protesting at his visit to an unoccupied housing estate in Tipperary on Thursday.
The protest was triggered by negative remarks Mr Casey had made about Travellers.
Mr Casey visited the six-house estate in Cabra Cross near Thurles on Wednesday afternoon surrounded by an enormous media contingent. There was also a large Garda presence in the vicinity.
The €1.7 million estate has been the centre of a bitter stand-off between local Travellers and Tipperary County Council. The extended family, who have lived on an unauthorised site across the road from the estate, have refused to move in because there is no grazing land for their horses.
Mr Casey stood outside the fenced-off estate and reiterated his claim that the Travellers were selfish and unreasonable in refusing to move into the houses when there was a homeless crisis in Dublin. He defended himself against charges of racism and of him using this case as a stunt to improve his ratings in advance of polling day.
Local Traveller families and supporters, carrying placards and banners, stood 100 metres down the road during Mr Casey’s interview and walked up to the estate’s entrance moments after his departure.
Barry McCarthy, who has been allotted one of the houses, claimed that Mr Casey had not bothered to meet with them but had walked away as soon as he had finished his media interviews. For his part, Mr Casey said the reason he was not going down to meet the extended McCarthy family was he did not want to intrude on their privacy.
Asked were his comments racist, Mr Casey replied: “This is nonsense. (Travellers) are not a different race. The Proclamation says we should cherish every child equally. There is not a racist bone in my body.
“I believe they are equal to everyone else, I don’t believe they are better than worse.
“It’s wrong that we are separating one group out and saying they are different. Because they are not.”
Asked repeatedly was it a stunt, he said it was not. Asked would it derail his campaign, he said his whole platform had been about broadband and getting business for Ireland. “This just happened. I’m not as politically correct as some other people are. Let’s just find out.”
Speaking minutes after Mr Casey’s departure, Margaret Casey, project coordinator of Tipperary Rural Travellers’ Project, said his comments were “very racist towards the Traveller community”.
“I think he is trying to divide members of the settled community and the travelling community. He is not fit to be president of Ireland in my opinion. He should step down.”
She argued that horses were part of the Traveller culture and that the family had never asked for stables or land, merely for grazing rights.
“If the council wants to give those houses to settled people on the housing list, residents have agreed to do so,” she said.
“There’s not a day goes by in Ireland when we are not burying a member of our family, our children, our men, our women from suicide,” she said.
“I just want to know why he came here. It’s a political stunt to put one section of Irish society against other.”