The good and the bad of the
 vote for Peter Casey

The good and the bad of the
 vote for Peter Casey Peter Casey

If you were a Christian Democrat, how would you have voted in the recent presidential election? To begin with, you might have looked beyond the candidates on offer and looked to the wider political picture. You might have asked yourself, is there some way to register a protest against the way in which the country is currently being run, including against the recent abortion result?

This may have led you towards a candidate who, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t even consider. I think this helps to explain the big vote for Peter Casey.

Overall, the presidential election offered a poor choice of candidates. Then again, when a giant country like the US offers voters the choice of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.

Michael D. Higgins was obviously by far and away the most qualified candidate on paper. He is an academic and a long-time politician who has thought deeply about Irish society and where it should be going. He has a strong vision of social justice. Unfortunately, that vision has led him to support serial human rights abusers like the late Fidel Castro in Cuba and the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Both of these men reduced their economies to ruin trying to fight poverty and injustice. Chavez literally reduced many of his people to hunger.

But when both men died, President Higgins praised them. Why? Because they fitted in with his Socialist vision of justice. That seemed more important to him than the practical, poverty-increasing effects of their policies.


You can see why a Christian would be drawn to President Higgins, because Christians care about issues like poverty. But you cannot fight poverty with terrible policies. You primarily fight poverty by creating decent jobs and Socialism is very bad at doing that, apart from the way it often suppresses basic political and religious freedoms.

We should remember that during the Cold War, Michael D. Higgins was far more outraged by the US than by the Soviet Union. That shows a moral compass that is gone awry. America can be attacked on all sorts of grounds, but the USSR was far worse.

All of the candidates bar Senator Joan Freeman, founder of Pieta House, supported repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Joan Freeman voted to keep the Eighth but during the campaign, under pressure from journalists, seemed to distance herself from the 724,000 people who also voted ‘No’.

In addition, she kept putting clear blue water between herself and The Iona Institute (which I head)  whenever asked about it. The only reason she was asked about Iona is because her niece, Maria Steen, is a spokeswoman for Iona and performed so capably during the referendum.

But Senator Freeman didn’t like Iona’s stance on same-sex marriage and kept saying so. The issue in that referendum wasn’t same-sex couples per se, of course, it was the effect marriage redefinition would have on the right of a child to a mother and a father. Irish law now believes that mothers and fathers are completely interchangeable and that the natural ties are of little consequence.

In any event, and despite her excellent work with Pieta House, she failed to connect with many voters and may have ended up losing some pro-life supporters who might otherwise have given her their number one.

Liadh Ní Riada didn’t even connect with Sinn Féin voters while Gavin Duffy and Seán Gallagher ran entirely colourless, safe campaigns, which is to say, campaigns that would not ruffle media feathers.

That leaves Peter Casey, who almost no-one heard of until recently. Most of the time he sounded like he was making it up as he went along, until he voiced an opinion about Travellers in one interview. He drew attention to the fact that in Tipperary, six houses have been built for Traveller families at public expense, but they haven’t moved in yet.

He refused to call them a separate ethnic group, and then, most crudely of all, he said Traveller culture seemed to basically involve moving onto other people’s land.

This catapulted his campaign onto the front pages and his support began to surge. What was going on? Three things, I believe.

One is that he tapped into genuine anti-Traveller prejudice.

A second is that he was signalling an unwillingness to bow the knee before every politically correct altar. This resonated with a lot of people who believe political debate in Ireland has become far too narrow.

The third and final one is simply that he became the vehicle-of-choice for a protest vote. Taken together, these three factors added up to almost a quarter of those who bothered to vote.


Some commentators have condemned both Casey and his supporters as ‘racists’ pure and simple. But this is far too black and white.

For example, Casey registered a very big vote in Donegal, finishing not too far behind President Higgins there. Does this mean that Donegal is the most ‘racist’ place in the country? Donegal also voted against abortion in May. Does this mean it is the most ‘sexist’ county as well? This is the logic of the critics. It is their demonising of anyone who doesn’t go along with the liberal/left agenda which is creating a market for someone like Peter Casey in the first place.

It’s also interesting that for the most part, President Higgins’ support was strongest in those parts of the country which are the most affluent, despite his Socialism, and the poorest rural areas were most inclined to go for Peter Casey. In other words, the most economically marginalised were more likely to vote for Casey, and the richest for Higgins.

Peter Casey would not be suited to the role of President and in a way the vote for him wasn’t about him at all. It was about other issues. One of those was undoubtedly genuine and unacceptable anti-Traveller prejudice, but another is the unease among a growing section of voters about the conformist, suffocating nature of Irish politics.