Sunday 15 September 2019

Mary O'Rourke: 'An open letter to Peter Casey, from a veteran survivor'

Former Fianna Fail minister Mary O'Rourke thinks that the defeated presidential candidate must now take stock

Presidential runner-up Peter Casey. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Presidential runner-up Peter Casey. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Mary O'Rourke

Dear Peter,

I don't know you and you don't know me, but I am writing you this open letter. I met you briefly in Virgin Media One after the five of you participated in a debate there and we were coming on to talk about the whole presidential campaign. But that was just a brief hello.

However, I have been reflecting on the whole presidential campaign.

Firstly, it was an outright success for Michael D and I am glad to have been among the thousands who voted for him on October 26. Imagine, Michael D was the top vote-getter in every one of the 40 constituencies - surely some record. I am looking forward to his inauguration and our subsequent pride in him as he goes about both his national and international duties.

And yet apart from the above, the talking point of the presidential vote was yourself, Peter Casey. You went from 1pc of the vote a week before the polling day, to almost 24pc on polling day.

Many of the commentators since then have put that matter down to your comments about Travellers and also your subsequent comments about social welfare. I do not at all agree with your comments in either of those specific areas, but in my opinion there was much more to the surge in your vote than just those two issues.

Somehow, Peter, you caught the imagination of people with your outspoken attitude and the way you were not prepared to bow down to peer pressure or media pressure of any kind.

You somehow broke free from the pack of contenders and stood on your own as a person prepared to speak out, and in that way you captured not just people who agreed with you on the two issues but people who were gripped by unease at various other matters in Irish society - perhaps the health crisis, perhaps the housing crisis, or any of the other daily issues which the body politic is striving to combat.

Now we come to the outlandish comments you made in Dublin Castle after the results.

You are not going to take over Fianna Fail just like that; you are not going to take over the seat of Pat the Cope or Charlie McConalogue just like that. But there is a role for you in Irish public life.

Now, you may say it was a combination of Niamh Horan's journalistic skills, plus your own natural ebullience, plus the euphoria of your very large vote which led you to make the way-out statements you did with regard to taking over a political party or taking over the seats of serving TDs. All that combination in a heady atmosphere led you, I think, to such impossible declarations. But I come back to the main point: there is a role in public life for someone like you, Peter.

In Irish public life there is always a pivotal role for a strong, independent voice, particularly so now in the uncertain political climate which reigns after the last general election and will do so again after the next one.

Talking about strong, independent voices, we could go back the decades to Joe Sheridan, who I knew very well, who ran in Longford-Westmeath. He had a strong, independent voice. After all, the slogan was 'Vote for Joe, the man you know', and he gathered votes from the farthest reach of Longford to the bridge of Athlone and beyond. He garnered the vote he got because he was Independent, was prepared to speak out, and was a very likeable person.

One can point to various other Independents, but that was my direct observation from those general elections of the 1960s and the pivotal role that Joe Sheridan played in the Dail and public life at that time. He had the ear of Sean Lemass and was well able to exercise his power in that regard.

So I have a formula for you, Peter - whether you take it or not is entirely up to yourself. I feel there is a role for you to run as an Independent candidate in the constituency of Donegal come the next general election. Donegal is a five-seater, and against that electoral background a strong Independent would have an almost certain chance of gaining a seat (I can assure you there is no shifting Pat the Cope or Charlie McConalogue).

So you win the seat, you are in Dail Eireann, and you can play your cards accordingly as the results of that election flow in. I would be very surprised indeed if you were not in a position to wield your influence when the electoral picture is fully realised after the next general election.

So Peter, gather around you a good, firm group of supporters. You will need those. As you know Donegal is a vast area and you will need strong-minded people who are willing to walk the terrain and talk the talk for you.

Keep your open demeanour and your general likeability, and your propensity to speak out on issues. You will get plenty of opportunity because a general election will loom in 2019 and you will have the opportunity to flex your muscles.

Let me also explain to you, Peter, that I heard you recently mention that you would set up a new political party. Sadly the example of new political parties succeeding is very dim in Irish politics, and it would be a very time-consuming and slow process for you to engage in. In brief, I think you should forget that angle and go instead to campaign for an Independent vote in Donegal.

I'm sure you will take this advice in a kindly fashion, based as it is on long experience of the body politic.

Yours truly,

Mary O'Rourke

(PS: By the way, Fianna Fail will be the surprise packet come the next general election, just as they were in 2016.

I have been around the country to various seminars and lectures, mostly in connection with the centenary of the vote for women in 1918. Everywhere I went I found a warm spirit towards Fianna Fail, no matter what the present polls say. This echoes what I forecast back in 2016 also. We will gain seats where we don't expect them, so let's wait and see.)

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