Peter Casey may have gained widespread attention for his comments about Travellers this week, but a throwaway remark on the current law is the most revealing and worrying thing he said, writes.
Presidential elections are often marked by observations around the lack of power our head of State really has — our President is regarded as a figurehead without any teeth.
However, the President does carry out the key function of signing all legislation into law and this responsibility is enshrined in Bunreacht na hÉireann.
Article 25 of our Constitution states that when a bill passes through both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Taoiseach must then present it to the President “for his signature and for promulgation by him as a law”.
Article 26 goes on to provide the President with the authority to consult with the Council of State on any bill and, after that, refer it on to the Supreme Court to determine whether it is “repugnant to this Constitution or to any provision thereof”.
In essence, the President is the final gatekeeper.
This year, Michael D Higgins has signed 25 acts into law, including the 36th amendment of the Constitution, allowing the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.
And so the remark made by Mr Casey yesterday should be of serious concern to the voting population.
“I didn’t even realise that there had been a law passed last year giving [Travellers] special ethnic status,” Mr Casey said when asked about his refusal to acknowledge the Travelling community as a distinct ethnic group.
What may seem like a comment with minor significance in fact revealed that Mr Casey is not qualified to hold the office of president.
He justified his ignorance by pointing out that there were “so many things going on” and added that he only moved back to Ireland full-time in the past year.
Given all the talk around the lack of power our President has, surely all candidates should be qualified to perform the one real job he or she does have.
The formal recognition of Travellers by then Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil in March of last year represented a powerful shift in the State’s attitude towards Travellers.
However, the response given by Mr Casey yesterday not only speaks to his unsuitability to even run for the office but also highlighted the dangers of celebrity culture creeping into the political sphere.
Anyone running for the Áras should have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Constitution and the laws which have been passed in this country. Otherwise, how can they possibly question legislation put forward by the government of the day?
Simply appearing on a reality TV show, or even being a successful businessman, does not make a person suitable to run for a job that gives the successful candidate the capacity to change our Constitution at the stroke of a pen.
It is not Mr Casey’s outrageous and offensive comments that we should be most troubled by but his gaping lack of knowledge of the laws of the land.