Nobody loves Peter Casey more than the Irish media
The Irish media owes Peter Casey an enormous debt of gratitude.
How they were dreading a foregone election campaign where the only talking point was Michael D. Higgins' expenses. As Ireland AM so inappropriately put it, Peter Casey "injected life" into the campaign.
A week later, and the media's infatuation with Casey has only grown. Tomorrow night, he will appear opposite Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show. He'll be telling Tubs "why he is standing by his controversial comments on the Travelling community". Doesn't it seem like he's been doing that for the last two weeks?
In a recent interview with Dion Fanning on Ireland Unfiltered, Ryan Tubridy said that he would never have Katie Hopkins back on the show. I mean, he has had her on twice before, but yeah, three times would just be too much of a platform. Casey, on the other hand, is an untapped goldmine of outrage.
RTÉ's Brendan O'Connor similarly leapt on the opportunity to get to the bottom of what Ireland really thinks of travellers on Wednesday night's Cutting Edge. Pat Kenny took much the same tack during the campaign when hosting a Virgin Media One debate — asking all six candidates whether or not they'd be happy to live next door to a traveller.
A sickeningly insulting question no doubt, but also one that does its utmost to obscure the actual issue. We clearly have a vast swathe of voters in Ireland that do have a problem with a minority group. Instead of exploring why this might be, or daring to address the possibility that prejudice might be at play, certain members of the press have hurried to normalise the view, rather than in any way examine the attitude itself.
The presidential candidate Peter Casey has certainly injected life into the 2018 race for the Aras. The Derry native caused such a stir with his comments on travellers and social welfare. He joins us now with his wife Helen #IrlAM pic.twitter.com/vAyPaQTq2n
— Ireland AM (@IrelandAMVMTV) October 24, 2018
There has also been little focus on Casey's nomination by four local authorities even though he repeatedly demonstrated a misunderstanding of what the office of President of Ireland entails — even saying that if elected, he would shorten the term to five years, something he could not have done.
Maybe we could be asking almost one-quarter of those who turned up to vote were ready to vote for a guy who didn't know what he was running for. Seems like a decent question to me.
That's not where the conversation went, though.
The morning after the election results were announced, The Sunday Times printed its "souvenir" edition — proudly bearing an image of the loser on the front page. An unusual step to be sure.
What's been lost in the Caseymania is the reality that Michael D. Higgins was granted a larger mandate than any president in the history of Ireland. Not only that, but his vote was almost certainly weakened by the lack of a "Home To Vote" movement that has seen turnout swell for progressive causes such as Marriage Equality and Repeal the Eighth — movements that line up with the kind of people who would vote for a dyed-in-the-wool old left-winger like Michael D.
You would think that this is quite a resounding statement by a vast majority of the public in favour of old-school Labour ideas like workers' rights, human rights and equality. Not everyone in the media agrees.
Casey — with 23% — failed to match the vote of any runner-up. Ever. Like, ever. He's the least popular runner-up in the history of the country. Granted, I was pretty young at the time, but I don't remember the huge swell of Mary Banotti acolytes in 1997, rattling the gates of Áras an Uahctaráin and demanding their voices be heard. Even Seán Gallagher managed to secure 28.5% of the vote in 2011. I don't recall the mad rush to address the concerns of all those Irish voters who love... whatever it is Sean Gallagher stands for. That's never been clear.
Peter Casey's performance was weaker than any presidential runner-up. Ever. You can look back at a whole long list of names you don't know and all of them did better than Casey. Tom O'Higgins got 49.5% against Eamon de Valera and 48% against Erskine Childers seven years later. Now there's a man who could claim he represented a solid portion of the Irish public, and I'm prepared to wager that you have never heard his name.
Indeed, many "political commentators" (I'm really not sure what actually qualifies these people, so I'm breaking out the quotation marks on this one), have predicted that Casey's attack on the travelling community will provide a blueprint for politicians going forward.
But how have the politicians themselves reacted? So far, not one sitting TD has come out in support of Casey. Casey said he wanted to join Fianna Fáil and they rather unceremoniously told him to jog on. No-seaters Renua offered Casey the leadership of their party. Casey said no, because whatever else you can say about him, years on Dragon's Den have probably taught him to recognise a bad pitch when he sees one.
Ah we’re ok thanks!! https://t.co/tqmE9TkFYK
— Timmy Dooley TD (@timmydooley) October 28, 2018
As an aside, you know your party is doing well when you can just drop everything and offer somebody the leadership out of nowhere. God, what a strong look that is. "Please lead us!" Yikers.
As for the public, well, nobody has taken to the street in protest that their beloved candidate has not been made president. There is no Casey movement. A recent #PeterForTaoiseach tweet by the man himself has three retweets. If the media stopped talking about him, it's very plausible that he'd already be forgotten.
An RTÉ press release for The Late Late Show has described Casey "the standout story of the campaign". That's easy to say when you're the one who decides which stories stand out.
That isn't to dismiss the issues that Casey's 23% has raised. It is a time of great concern for the travelling community. To know that someone can increase their projected share of the vote times ten simply by calling out you and your people must be deeply disturbing. It isn't to pretend that Casey is an irrelevance, and that the divisive issues he tapped into aren't going to continue to divide Ireland for a long time to come.
It is simply to say that nobody, but nobody, is savouring Casey's time in the spotlight more than those who are shining it. And they're happy to keep him there as long as they can.