Election reaction: No apology for Peter Casey, says Taoiseach

Election reaction: No apology for Peter Casey, says Taoiseach

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Update 10.20pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has this evening insisted he will not apologise to presidential candidate Peter Casey for calling on people not to vote for him, saying there is no need to do so.

Asked about Mr Casey's views on the Travelling community in Brussels nine days ago, Mr Varadkar said voters should not support the candidate and that he hoped Mr Casey would "a very clear message" in the presidential election race result.

However, Mr Casey subsequently saw his support surge from 2% to more than 23%.

Asked by reporters this evening if he will apologise, Mr Varadkar said no. He added that he has no interest in Mr Casey joining Fine Gael, claiming he does not share the party's political views.

"I won't be doing that (apologising). As I said, I endorsed President Higgins, the party campaigned for him, he has had a resounding endorsement tonight.

"I think that's decidedly unlikely (that Mr Casey will ask to join Fine Gael). Anyone who joins the Fine Gael party has to sign up to our values and principles, so I think that's unlikely," he said.

Earlier: We must listen to protest vote, says Taoiseach

The Taoiseach has promised to listen to a protest vote which saw a relatively unknown businessman take around a fifth of the presidential vote.

Leo Varadkar acknowledged an element of anti-Traveller sentiment after runner-up Peter Casey enjoyed an electoral bounce when he said they should not be considered as members of an ethnic minority.

Mr Varadkar said poll-topping President Michael D Higgins had won an "overwhelming" victory to take a second term in the office.

The Taoiseach said: "There were people registering protest for lots of other reasons.

"When people register a protest, whether it is on the streets or in the ballot box you have to listen to that, if you are in politics."

"As politicians we always need to listen to people when they register a protest."

Mr Casey saw a surge in support after he accused Irish Travellers of camping on other people's land and criticised the refusal by some to take state-provided homes.

The Taoiseach said: "A lot of people voted for Mr Casey but he is going to get less than one of four votes so we should not lose sight of the actual result here."

He added there was a lot of work to be done on building understanding of Traveller culture and said they suffered inequality.

Mr Varadkar said: "There is a misunderstanding between the settled community and Traveller community.

"It is something that we will have to reflect on in the coming days.

"I want the Irish Traveller community to know that I, as head of Government, and the Government that I lead respect them and see them as part of our society and we want to continue to work with them to deal with some of these inequalities and disadvantages that are at the root of some of these problems."

Earlier, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin congratulated Michael D Higgins.

Mr Martin said that Irish people want someone who behaves with dignity and strikes a mood with people on important occasions.

He said that Peter Casey's vote was "very, very significant" adding that it is a reflection that people are "not happy" with the way things are.

"It also represents a kick back against the system and articulation that everybody is not happy with the status quo or not happy with the way things are," he added.

Earlier: Peter Casey's statements on Travellers 'shouldn't be allowed', says Minister

Election reaction: No apology for Peter Casey, says Taoiseach

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty says Peter Casey's controversial comments during the campaign were ill-informed and his views need to be challenged.

"Peter Casey sought to do damage to an entire body - 40,000 people - with sweeping, ill-informed statements last week and I think that's bad practice and it shouldn't be allowed,"

She added: "There are people who have suffered and had bad experiences at the hands of some members of the Travelling Communities, but, by Jove, there are some people who have had bad experiences at the hands of bankers, at the hands of politicians, milkmen, teachers, doctors.

"There are bad apples in every barrel."

Earlier: Gerry Adams blames 'irrelevancy of the contest' for lack of SF vote

Gerry Adams has admitted that Sinn Féin failed to get the vote out in the Presidential Election.

The party's candidate Liadh Ni Riada performed poorly - with tallies putting her at 7-8% of the vote.

The TD for Louth said that people did not find the vote relevant.

"The big issue was the irrelevancy of the contest for a section of our vote," he said.

"And then, the assumption - and people were telling us this as we were canvassing - that Micheal D, as the incumbent, was going to be returned."

Update 2.10pm: Pavee Point say strong support for Peter Casey 'worrying'

A strong vote for Peter Casey has been recorded in parts of Limerick with large traveller populations.

Martin Collins from Pavee Point says it is worrying to see such support for the Presidential candidate in Askeaton and Rathkeale.

Candidate Peter Casey with his wife Helen at the Convention Centre, Dublin. Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Candidate Peter Casey with his wife Helen at the Convention Centre, Dublin. Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Mr Casey topped the poll at a booth from Rathkeale Girls National School with 44%. He also took 46% of the vote in a box that came from the Askeaton area.

"That would worry me but at the same time it has to be acknowledged that there has been some tensions in the town of Rathkeale, particularly around Christmas time, when Travellers would turn up from right across the globe," said Mr Collins.

"So we've always called for some sort of mediation service or some sort of relationship-building initiative."

Meanwhile, party leaders and other politicians have been congratulating Michael D Higgins ahead of an official announcement.

"It's a very historic victory for Michael D, in fact, I think it's a larger margin than even Éamon de Valera enjoyed in becoming president of Ireland on two occasions," said Labour's Joan Burton. "So, well done to Michael D."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says Peter Casey got a lot of oxygen from his controversial comments on Travellers.

But he says his support probably reflects a more general dissatisfaction among the electorate.

Labour party leader Brendan Howlin said Mr Higgins had been an exemplary President and that there was no one better to represent the people of Ireland during the next seven years.

“Not only does Michael D represent the best of the Labour and trade union tradition in Irish politics, but he has touched the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life, and all political persuasions,” Mr Howlin said.

“Michael D Higgins showed a rare depth of sensibility during the recent centenary commemorations, and he has the authority and authenticity to speak for us all at the sensitive memorials yet to come.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulated Mr Higgins on Saturday morning as the counting began, tweeting he was “really happy” that the political veteran would continue to be the country’s President for the next seven years.

Earlier: Candidate reaction: 'Democracy was best served', says Gavin Duffy

Dragons Den investor Gavin Duffy has said that “democracy was best served” by the race for the Park as he gratuitously accepted defeat and the likelihood of coming last in the contest, writes Political Correspondent, Juno McEnroe.

Mr Duffy said fellow investor and contender Peter Casey had spoken to voters in a “human voice” while he had communicated in an “academic” way.

Gavin Duffy
Gavin Duffy

Speaking to Pat Kenny on Newstalk radio, Mr Duffy also said that he had “no regrets” in participating in the campaign.

This is despite exit polls putting him at just 2%.

The businessman also congratulated incumbent Michael D Higgins, who looks set to be returned to Áras an Uachtarain after a landslide win.

Mr Duffy said his failed campaign though had not impacted on him.

I don’t think it will damage my business if I do return to business.

He said he had conducted himself with “dignity and respect” but “didn’t cut through” to voters.

On the other hand, Mr Casey had targeted a “marginalised community”, something he wouldn’t engage in.

Mr Duffy said “democracy was best served by the process we have gone through.”

Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer thinks many people who cast their ballot for Peter Casey did it as a protest vote.

He also believes the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were right to call out the businessman's comments about Travellers during the campaign.

"You can't allow for any disingenuous comments regarding the Travelling community to be part of a campaign," said Mr Buttimer.

"There are people who feel under pressure in certain parts of the country because of certain activities by some members of the Travelling community but I think Peter Casey in the worst form of Trumpism tapped into that."

Meanwhile, Mr Higgins’ communications director Bernard Harbour said the exit polls demonstrated that people were very happy with how the president had conducted himself in his first seven years in office.

“I think it shows resounding support for the message he was giving to people, which was that he has been, and will be, a president for all of the people, a message of quality and inclusiveness that everybody in Ireland should be represented and should be represented well by their president,” he told the Press Association.

Juno McEnroe and PA

Earlier: 'Middle Ireland' is 'tired' of liberal Ireland, says Casey

Presidential election candidate Peter Casey has denied widespread claims his surge in support from 2% to 21% has anything to do with his allegedly racist views on the Travelling community, writes Political Correspondent, Fiachra O Cionnaith.

Mr Casey rejected the claim on RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland programme this morning, saying people voted for him because "middle Ireland" is "just tired" of liberal Ireland.

Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

With boxes opening this morning and votes being carefully counted, incumbent Michael D Higgins is predicted to have won 56% support.

However, just as high-profile a result is the likely 21% first preference vote for Mr Casey.

Asked if his surge was to do with his controversial Travelling community views, Mr Casey said "the biggest comment that got me by far was that middle Ireland and people who get up to work and pay for everything, they just feeling tired".

He said this issue above all else is the reason why people voted for him.

Speaking on the same programme, Pavee Point Travelling community representative Kathleen Lawrence rubbished Mr Casey's attempt to downplay the influence of his Travelling community views, saying there is "no way without making those comments" that he would have seen such an increase.

In a reference to controversial US president Donald Trump, Ms Lawrence added that Mr Casey has adopted "American" political strategies by "playing the race card", and that all he has done is "make Ireland more divisive".

Sinn Féin's candidate Liadh Ní Riada polled worse than Martin McGuinness in 2011 with the exit poll showing she only secured between 7% and 8% of the vote.

The party has been criticised for being slow to announce their candidate but the party's health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly is blaming the poor turnout.

She says the party is proud of Liadh: "Clearly we have to learn some lessons from it but the lessons are not going to be that it is not good practice to have an election.

"The lessons are not going to be that the next person who is after Michael D Higgins should serve a 14-year term.

"I don't think that that is what people necessarily want."

Meanwhile, businessman Gavin Duffy says he has no regrets about his decision to run for office.

Exit polls show the Dragons Den star secured just 2 per cent of the vote.

Last night he tweeted his congratulations to Michael D Higgins and wished him all the best for his second term.

Fiachra O Cionnaith and Digital Desk

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