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John Downing: One-in-five vote for Peter Casey is a major alarm call for all national authorities

 

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Irish presidential candidate Peter Casey casts his vote at the polling station in Greencastle National School, Co Donegal, as the country goes to the polls to vote in the Irish presidential election. Rebecca Black/PA Wire

Irish presidential candidate Peter Casey casts his vote at the polling station in Greencastle National School, Co Donegal, as the country goes to the polls to vote in the Irish presidential election. Rebecca Black/PA Wire

Irish presidential candidate Peter Casey casts his vote at the polling station in Greencastle National School, Co Donegal, as the country goes to the polls to vote in the Irish presidential election. Rebecca Black/PA Wire

A BIG win by Michael D Higgins – backed by six out of 10 voters - is hardly big news. The vote for maverick Independent, Peter Casey really is the story of this presidential election.

The Derryman had propped up the bottom of the ratings in all surveys during the month-long campaign. But got a big blast of notoriety, 10 days out, when he questioned the idea of Travellers having special minority ethnic status.

He told the Irish Independent that Travellers were “basically people camping in other people’s land”, that house prices drop in areas where they settle, and that they are “not paying their fair share of taxes in society”.

The ripostes to these blunt all-encompassing criticisms came from all sides of the political spectrum. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, effectively warned voters to shun Peter Casey.

Well, it turns out that one in five voters were not keen on that warning. When the survey people did their work last Wednesday and Thursday, the news of Peter Casey’s comments had not really got about the country.

The surveys published last weekend put Mr Casey on 2pc – up from 1pc. Today we realise his vote haul is likely to be 10 times that prediction.

So, late last week, as his words gained wider circulation, slowly there were ripples of anecdotal support coming from all over the country - especially from smaller towns and rural areas. Many people said Mr Casey’s comments had chimed with their own thoughts, which they did not often felt they could openly express for themselves.

That popular gut reaction was augmented by a feeling that the “authorities” – among them the gardaí, local councils and revenue authorities – are not seen to apply the same rigour of law and regulation to Travellers as they do to members of the settled community. Such perceptions are sometimes correct - but not always.

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A general view of count staff in front of ballot boxes, as they wait for the counting of votes will begin in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday at 9am, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory.  Niall Carson/PA Wire

A general view of count staff in front of ballot boxes, as they wait for the counting of votes will begin in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday at 9am, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory. Niall Carson/PA Wire

The boxes are opening in the National Convention Centre(Photo: Mark Condren)

The boxes are opening in the National Convention Centre(Photo: Mark Condren)

Sinn Féin Deputy David Cullinane and Fianna Fail party member Seán Dower at the count in Waterford (Photo Ciaran Murphy)

Sinn Féin Deputy David Cullinane and Fianna Fail party member Seán Dower at the count in Waterford (Photo Ciaran Murphy)

Tally papers in North Tipperary

Tally papers in North Tipperary

Returning officer for the Laois and parts of South Kildare constituency Paul Featherstonehaugh officially commenced the counting of the presidential ballot papers promptly at 9am. (Photo: Stan Henderson)

Returning officer for the Laois and parts of South Kildare constituency Paul Featherstonehaugh officially commenced the counting of the presidential ballot papers promptly at 9am. (Photo: Stan Henderson)

This year, the elections will be held on he same day as the 2019 European Parliament election and a referendum easing restrictions on divorce. Niall Carson/PA Wire

This year, the elections will be held on he same day as the 2019 European Parliament election and a referendum easing restrictions on divorce. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Counting of votes begins in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory.  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Counting of votes begins in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ballot papers during the Presidential Election 2018

Ballot papers during the Presidential Election 2018

Counting of votes begins in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory.  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Counting of votes begins in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Counting of votes begins in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory.  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Counting of votes begins in Ireland's presidential election on Saturday, with incumbent Michael D Higgins on course to secure a landslide victory. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Peter Casey pictured at the Convention Centre (Photo: Mark Condren)

Peter Casey pictured at the Convention Centre (Photo: Mark Condren)

Presidential Candidate Peter Casey at the count centre for the Presidential Election in the Convention Centre, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Presidential Candidate Peter Casey at the count centre for the Presidential Election in the Convention Centre, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Presidential Candidate Peter Casey at the count centre for the Presidential Election in the Convention Centre, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Presidential Candidate Peter Casey at the count centre for the Presidential Election in the Convention Centre, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

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The point is that for many in “middle Ireland”, this one in five vote in favour of the “Traveller critic” is a message to the Government and all its attendant authorities.  And it is time to talk about these issues more openly, in a conciliatory manner.

It has to be remembered that whether those perceptions are right or wrong, we must also know that the 30,987 Travellers recorded in the 2016 Census as living in Ireland,  are as diverse as the rest of the population. They are rich and poor, fat and thin, urban and rural, law-abiding and law-breaking, and all of the rest in between those extremes.

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The six presidential hopefuls for the Áras 2018 race

The six presidential hopefuls for the Áras 2018 race

The six presidential hopefuls for the Áras 2018 race

Travellers are a microcosm of Irish society: some as good as the best, others bad as any of the worst.  But as a small and identifiable grouping, it is too easy to make black-and-white judgements, and blame all Travellers for the transgressions of a smaller group among them.

So, let’s discuss these issues more openly - including the quiet reactions of support for Mr Casey from people around the country.

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