'I am joining Fianna Fail with a view to becoming Taoiseach' - Peter Casey
Peter Casey may be out of the presidential race - but he has bigger ambitions and newfound support to spur him on
PETER Casey has a little black book. Every year, he writes a list of people whom he will cut from his life — and this year, it’s about to get a whole lot longer.
Sitting in a small Italian cafe, yards from where the nation’s media have gathered to report on the presidential election count, he considers the rough race which he has been through.
“People who you think are your friends turn out not to be your friends,” he muses. “It’s like when couples get divorced. People take sides. And you suddenly realise people who you thought were your friends are not.
“So what I do is every year is a list of the people I want to quietly move out of my life.
“I don’t ring them up [and tell them]... but I do make a conscious decision to spend less time with them because they are not adding value to my life. I do it every year. I think it’s something everybody should do. I tell my children to do it.”
On his 2018 hit list, he explains:
“Sometimes you get into a habit of hanging around with people just because it’s convenient. Or it’s habitual.
“But they are not your real friends. This will just probably accelerate that a little bit. It’s only October. The list [will be added to] a little bit more,” he laughs.
Sipping a black coffee, he is slow to take any joy in the massive boost he received in the polls — securing him a place as runner-up to the unbeatable President Michael D Higgins.
Asked if he is celebrating his result, he says: “I wasn’t happy. I genuinely thought I could [do] better because there’s such a large portion of the population that are frustrated.”
Now he has bigger plans.
Not content with going back to a quiet life in business, the Derryman says a career in politics awaits him.
And he isn’t shy about his ultimate ambitions.
“I am joining Fianna Fail. I intend to run in the next general election in Donegal. And I am becoming a Fianna Fail TD with a view to becoming Taoiseach, as the head of a renewed and revitalised Fianna Fail.”
The businessman explains:
“The Fianna Fail party was always about the people of Ireland. But I believe the party has lost its way in recent years and lost this position, as the party that listens to the ordinary people of Ireland and represents their concerns.
“I want to be the one that leads Fianna Fail back to its natural home as the party of the people, to get it back on track and to get the party listening again to the real people, to get outside of the bubble of Dublin and Leinster House and the political and media establishment.”
He is in a good position. According to a poll conducted by RTE, more than 30pc of Fianna Fail voters voted for Peter Casey. It helped the candidate easily shoot clear of the 20pc mark overall.
In what was seen as an outrage by many, in recent weeks his comments on the Traveller culture and ethnicity struck a chord with some people. “I got over 3,000 messages of support and they are still coming in,” he says.
While many criticised his stance, voters around the country quietly backed him in the privacy of their voting booth.
Meanwhile, reports into the Traveller community show that they are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged group in Irish society — and highlight the need for certain issues to be addressed.
In 2009, a report called ‘Translating Pain into Action — Gender-based Violence and Minority Ethnic Women in Ireland’, which was published by the Women’s Health Council, found that Traveller women are proportionately 30 times as likely as settled women to suffer domestic violence.
Recent figures also show that although Travellers make up only 0.6pc of the population, they account for 10pc of the male prisoner population and 22pc of the female prison population.
Last year, data from the Economic and Social Research Institute’s 2017 report found that only 8pc of Traveller children reach Leaving Certificate level.
Asked about these statistics, Casey says: “It’s tragic.”
He explains: “If you don’t do something about it, the cycle will continue on for another generation and another generation.”
His solution is simple: “Education, education, education. That’s they key. We need to make a huge effort so that the children of the travelling community stay in school so they get an education... you need to break the cycle.”
During his controversial campaign, he also described Ireland as a “welfare-dependent state” which, he says, has led to a “sense of entitlement that’s become unaffordable”.
Speaking this weekend, he says he hopes his comments will start a conversation for the average voter.
“I would ask people to just look at what I have been able to do in the last couple of weeks, to start conversations about real topics. You may not agree with me, but I brought those topics to the table and started conversations where conversations clearly need to be had.
“And my result in this election, which saw me getting as many votes as the four other unsuccessful candidates combined, shows, clearly, that people responded to these issues being aired. To have gained so many votes against a candidate that was effectively unbeatable, and to have got so many of those votes from supporters of Fianna Fail, and indeed Sinn Fein, shows me that I have much, much more to offer the Irish electorate,” he says.
Asked about what his immediate priorities would be as a member of Dail Eireann, Casey identifies three specific areas: “I am passionate about education. It is the single most transformative thing you can invest in for an economy and a country. So I believe we need to abolish third level [registration] fees.
“This will help with equality of access to third level and it will also make it easier for more students to move out of home and have a proper university experience, because college is as much about how you grow outside the lectures as what you learn in them.
“In return for this, I think stu dents should have to spend five of the first six years of their career working in Ireland, leaving them a year to go walkabout if they wish. If necessary, I think we should fund it from the strategic investment fund.
“What could be a better strategic investment than educating our young?”
Secondly, he says: “I think we need to help the younger generation of the squeezed middle start to realise the dream of owning their own home by setting up a co-ownership model.
“This has been hugely successful in the past in the US, and the housing crisis is a major issue facing ordinary people.”
Finally, he says: “I believe we should move the focus away from the seemingly impossible task of getting broadband to every home in Ireland and instead pursue the simpler task of getting 4G all over the country.
“This means everyone in all rural areas will have phone reception all the time, and also they will have plenty of bandwidth to work on the internet in their homes.
“The obsession with rural broadband is a massive con job and the Government has made mess of it anyway.”
One of the criticisms levelled at Casey is that he punched down when he could have aimed his platform at the rich and powerful.
But he rejects the accusation. “Are you suggesting for one second that I don’t punch up? I demanded the resignation of two government ministers, and I have asked for an apology from the Tanaiste and the Taoiseach because they interfered in the democratic election process of a nominated person.
“So I take swings at whoever I see and if I see they are doing something wrong, I will come out and say it.”
With almost 300,000 people in Ireland giving him their backing, it seems he is just getting warmed up.