On RTÉ’s News At One.
Presidential hopeful Peter Casey spoke to Áine Lawlor – in light of his announcement that he will be taking a break from the campaign this weekend to consider whether or not he will continue to run for president.
His name is already on the ballot.
The decision to take a break follows criticism of him saying he didn’t believe Travellers should get ethnic minority status – despite this passing in May of last year.
He also told Kevin Doyle, of the Irish Independent, Travellers are “basically people that are camping on somebody else’s land”.
And he made further comments about Travellers in Thurles, Co Tipperary where a number of families from the Travelling community are refusing to move into newly built homes because of a dispute with Tipperary County Council.
A statement from the Travelling families involved about the matter can be read here.
During this afternoon’s radio, following a visit to the location of the homes yesterday, Mr Casey said: “There’s not a racist bone in my body.”
From the News At One interview…
Mr Casey started out saying the past 48 hours had been “strange to say the least”.
Peter Casey: “I’ve been accused of being a racist. This is just absolutely not what my campaign is about. I’m going to take the weekend and I’m going to reflect on it and I’m going to talk to my family and my wife and my children and my advisors and I’ll make a decision on Monday as to what’s the right thing to do.”
“I mean I promised my mother I was going to stand years ago for the presidency of Ireland. She would not want to me to stand if I was going to get elected on this platform. That is not what I’m about.
“You know I feel very passionate that there is things that need to be done, like, for example, I set up my business in Buncrana and, you know, it’s just…
Áine Lawlor: “All right..”
Casey: “It’s, you know, it’s just so wrong…”
Lawlor: “Ok, let’s take this step by step because you seem quite upset. Are you?”
Casey: “I am, yes.”
Lawlor: “Were you surprised by the reaction to your remarks about Travellers in Cabra and Thurles.”
Casey: “You know, I was surprised beyond belief. I thought we’d got way beyond this. I didn’t even realise that there had been this law passed last year giving special ethnic status to…”
Lawlor: “You didn’t know that Travellers were recognised in Irish law? Under Irish law?”
Casey: “I didn’t. I hadn’t realised that.”
Lawlor: “That this is a conversation and indeed a campaign that had been waged a long time and it had come up several times over several…”
Casey: “There’s so many things that have been going on. I’ve been, as you know, it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve moved back full time to Ireland so it’s…”
Lawlor: “So you didn’t realise what you were getting into when you said that?”
Casey: “No idea. I thought we were way beyond that. We are such a melting pot of different cultures, nationalities, you know, we’ve got so many, we’ve got 120,000 Polish people here, we’ve got African people, people from Africa, people from all over, you know, all over the world. All these different nationalities now proudly call Ireland their home. And I thought we were beyond…The Proclamation says ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’….
Lawlor: “Well a lot of people thought we were way beyond, as a nation, having Travellers singled out by any candidate who…”
Casey: “That’s wrong…”
Lawlor: “And pitting them against the homeless in Dublin?”
Casey: “I wasn’t pitting them against the homeless in Ireland. I was pointing out the absurdity of these amazing houses sitting there empty because people were demanding that they would be given stables and an acre of land….”
Lawlor: “But you didn’t afford the Travellers of Cabra, they said, afterwards, and they were upset. You’re upset that they were upset because you didn’t meet them.”
Casey: “That is absolutely not true. It was well known that I was coming down there. I announced I was coming down there to meet with them, to meet with Martin Collins. And I announced that I was coming down. I went down there with my wife and we stood there for 15 minutes or so, answered questions, they all, there were literally 25/30 yards across the road….”
Lawlor: “Were those people, people whose votes you are seeking, were they not entitled to the courtesy, particularly when you, as a candidate were using all the attention that comes with being a candidate, to highlight this issue and their dispute with the council. Were they not entitled to the courtesy of the candidate at least coming up and saying, face to face, ‘do you know what? Here’s my problem. And here, as president, is why, how I would like to address it.”
Casey: “I felt it was inappropriate for me to go over. There was like 25 to 30 cameraman there. I felt it would have been invasive…”
Lawlor: “Your office could have said something …”
Casey: “They knew I was there, they knew I was 30 yards away…”
Lawlor: “And they knew what you’d said about them…”
Casey: “And I waited for them, I waited for them to come over, I said ‘they know I’m here’. There was two police cars at either side, the road was [inaudible], everybody knew I was there. And then I went up to the Hayes Hotel and a councillor John Cross came up and said ‘I think you should go back down’ and I said, cause they’re holding, they waited until I left before they came out with their placards and then held a press conference, they waited until I drove off. They timed it…”
Lawlor: “Was that not the right of any citizen of this Republic to protest?”
Casey: “It is but you then can’t say that I didn’t go to meet them, I did go to meet them. And I then went…”
Lawlor: “But it was up to them to approach you?”
Casey: “It would have been wrong for me to go and knock on their door with a whole world of interviewers and they were actually, you know, aggressive, some of them. One of them was actually quite rude to me. And I felt…I then went to the Hayes Hotel and invited them to come up. Margaret Casey, ironically, is one of the leaders, and the councillor contacted her and said ‘look, Peter’s here, he’s absolutely happy to sit here and wait for you to come up and meet with him’. And she declined the offer. And I said ‘I’ll go down and see here anytime she wants to meet with me, I’m prepared to talk’.”
Lawlor: “There are many people in the Travelling community Peter Casey who, from the debate the other night, right through what happened in Thurles, they find the way you have been talking, the way you have been describing the Traveller community is racist.”
Casey: “I grew up in Derry when you couldn’t get a job when you were Catholic, you were discriminated against because you were Catholic, that was one of reasons I left. It’s one of the reasons I left. I’m so conscious of the evil of discrimination, of bigotry and of racism. I, there’s not a racist bone in my body. And I really, I find it…”
Lawlor: “Maybe not intentionally but do you understand that you could have caused that offence to a group of people who do see you language and they way that you have been dealing with this issue and this campaign as racist? Do you understand that?”
Casey: “No I don’t. Because I’m not a racist…”
Lawlor: “And for Michael D Higgins talks about the lower life expectancy, and the greater mental health problems, the greater health problems, this is a community that has lost out and loses out by every indication going on this society.
Casey: “And I, that is totally, totally wrong that that is the case. But the way to cure the problem is not to sort of make them feel like they’re special and they’re different, the way is to help them feel that they’re included. That they are as Irish as I am. I got a lift to the…”
Lawlor: “And you think standing outside empty houses and calling the people ‘bonkers’ and…”
Casey: “No I didn’t…”
Lawlor: “Do you think that helps?”
Casey: “I did not call the people bonkers. I called the council…”
Lawlor: “Called the dispute bonkers.”
Casey: “I called the dispute, I said the whole thing is bonkers, it’s wrong. That there are people sleeping on the streets in Dublin, you know.”
Lawlor: “You say you’re reconsidering, do you regret running?”
Casey: “At the moment, I’m considering yes. If I had known it was going to come this way, I probably wouldn’t have run because this is not. My platform was to, you know, I’m all about rural Ireland. We have got a tragedy going on in rural Ireland, people are leaving rural Ireland and now because Dublin is so expensive, they can’t afford to go to Dublin, the only option is to go to England which that option might be ruled out if Brexit goes the wrong way. People are leaving…”
Lawlor: “And you seem genuinely distressed in front of me here but there are people who are thinking this is a cynical stunt dreamt up to keep you in the headlines and get you up in the polls over the weekend. Because one way or another, your name is going to be on that ballot paper this day week. People will have to decide themselves whether to vote for you or not.”
Casey: “Well they can’t vote for me if I’m not in the race. So..”
Lawlor: “Your name will be on the ballot paper.”
Casey: “Yeah but they won’t vote for me, if I step down, I’ll encourage them to not vote for me.”
Lawlor: “Will you ask them to endorse Joan Freeman?”
Casey: “Joan would probably be my preferred choice of the other candidates yeah.”
Lawlor: “And when will you know?”
Casey: “I’m going to talk to my family this weekend. I’m going to talk and spend time with my wife and the children. And my advisors and then, you know, at the moment I’m just, we’ll work things out over the weekend and discuss with the family and then make a decision and, you know, there’s…”
Lawlor: “However upset you are now and this must be…we have seen, you know, previous campaigns, previous candidates, people like Mary Banotti, Adi Roche, Gay Mitchell, they’ve all felt, for different reasons and in different ways and in different times, they’ve all felt exactly how horrible a presidential campaign can be for the candidate. On the other hand, are you not showing, one week to go to polling day, your name will be on the ballot paper, are you not showing that you’re a man who fundamentally doesn’t have the temperament to do the job?”
Casey: “That’s the complete opposite. I’m so passionate about making a difference. I’m passionate about…you look at what’s going on in rural Ireland. We should have gone with 4G straight off the bat. Every home in Ireland would have 20-25 megabyte. You know, and we’d have four bars on our cellphones.”
Lawlor: “Are you a wealthy man who’s chasing a dream here and you’ve come up against reality?”
Casey: “There’s nothing wrong with chasing a dream but this is, this is wrong when you’re accusing people of being something they’re not. And it’s not right that people, and you’ve got, you know, politicians jumping on and accusing me of being a racist, I mean it’s just wrong.”
Lawlor: “Well [Taoiseach] Leo Varadkar spoke about divisive remarks designed to get attention for you and your campaign. I mean you are getting the attention. Those remarks are divisive.”
Casey: “I’ve said and it’s in the Proclamation, we should cherish all the children of the nation equally. What’s racist about that? What’s racist about saying that you should treat everyone equally. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t think you should specify any group, any ethnic group at all. The taxi driver the other day was from Pakistan and I said to him ‘are there many Pakistani people in Dublin?’. He said, ‘oh yeah’, he said ‘there’s a large community’. And I said, ‘Would you like to be deemed as an ethnic group?’. He said, ‘no, of course not, we’re Irish. My children, they all speak with Dublin accents’. You know, I mean, they’re proud to be Irish, they’ve made Ireland their home and they don’t want to me, he felt it would be an insult to make them a different group because they’re Irish.”
Lawlor: “Will we know by Monday?”
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