PRESIDENTIAL candidate Peter Casey has been accused of “cynically stirring up and appealing to anti-Traveller attitudes in society” to boost his profile and vote.
The claim was made by Solidarity TD Mick Barry.
He said that in the wake of the controversy it’s “more important than ever” that an Expert Group on Traveller Accommodation brings forward “bold” recommendations to address "festering issues".
Mr Barry made his remarks as members of the Expert Group appeared at the Oireachtas Housing Committee.
He said the “elephant in the room” was the debate that occurred during the recent presidential election and its aftermath.
During the campaign Independent candidate and businessman Peter Casey claimed that Travellers were “basically people camping in someone else's land".
He also highlighted a case in Tipperary where six homes lay empty in a €1.7m development due to a dispute between Traveller families and the local authority over space for their horses.
"I'm sorry, there's something seriously wrong with society when we're at that stage," Mr Casey said at the time.
Mr Casey was widely criticised for his controversial remarks about the Travelling Community and was forced to deny accusations that some of them amounted to racism.
His raising of the issue has been credited in part for seeing his support rise from as low as 1pc to the 23pc of the vote he got on election day.
At today’s committee meeting Mr Barry said it hasn’t been unusual for “wannabe” politicians to play the “Traveller card” to boost their vote.
He argued that “this was on a level that’s not been seen before in this State” during the presidential election.
He claimed one candidate in the presidential election was involved in “cynically stirring up and appealing to anti-Traveller attitudes in society in order to cynically boost their profile and their vote.
“As we know unfortunately that was done with some success by the candidate in question.”
Mr Barry urged the Expert Group members not to soften its approach to coming up with recommendations for government as a result of the recent debate.
He said: “I would say actually in the aftermath of that controversy it is more important than ever that the expert group comes up with recommendations that are bold, that are radical and that address the festering issues and problems that are there.”
Mr Barry claimed the issue of providing Traveller Accommodation has been pushed to the side by local authorities for “far too long” and that “courage” is needed to address the human rights issues that currently exist.
The Expert Group met for the first time last month and has been tasked with examining the best ways to deliver Traveller accommodation.
It is to provide the government with suggestions on key actions within the next six months.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said there has been a “chronic underspend” by local authorities in providing Traveller accommodation and that he hopes the expert group will come back with “radical” recommendations on how this can be addressed.
Mr Ó Broin said the figures are “intolerable”.
He said: “I have no doubt and I’ll say it publically - while there are many reasons why individual projects are slower to deliver - prejudice operating at a community level, at a political level, at a management level is one of the key factors and I just think we have to be honest about that.”
He added: “where prejudice is clearly a barrier we have to find mechanisms to put in place to then take those decisions away from some of those people”.
Mr Ó Broin asked if sanctions should be considered for local authorities and suggested that withholding funding for roads “might focus the minds of elected representatives to do what they’re legally required to do under the traveller accommodation programmes.”
Presidential Election 2018
The timing of the 2018 presidential election result was somewhat synchronistic, falling as it did on Halloween weekend - it produced a monster who has sent a chill of fear down the spine of the political establishment.
A family from the Travelling community that found themselves at the centre of Presidential candidate Peter Casey’s controversial remarks have said that they are not surprised with the support he received in the race.