Controversial presidential election candidate Peter Casey appears to have struck a chord with at least some of Kerry’s voters as he pulled in 28% of votes in the county. Casey’s shock late surge in the polls left him with 23% of the votes nationally, a considerable distance behind sitting president Michael D Higgins who attracted 55.8% of the vote.
Interestingly, the former Dragons’ Den star had been polling at just 2% prior to making those comments about the Travelling Community. The outpouring of support he received thereafter and on election day seems to indicate that some people agree with his sentiments. Others, who stopped short of condoning what Casey actually said, claimed to like the fact that he “says what he thinks”.
Many political observers are now tipping Casey for a run at the Dáil while predicting a spate of copy cat Caseys popping up at the next general election.
I’m not so sure. I think Casey’s relative success can and should be attributed to a protest vote of sorts, and not some “rise of the right” moment. The result of the election was a foregone conclusion and the Office of the President of Ireland holds such little actual authority that it can almost be considered politically irrelevant.
There was no real danger of Casey getting in and even if he did, what difference could he possibly make to the day-to-day-lives of the people who voted for him? A vote for Casey was simply a portion of the disaffected in our society lashing out at the establishment.
The overall turnout was extremely low as well. You can’t really gauge the mood of a nation from such a paltry sample. And even if you could, and the results accurately reflect how people really feel, a liberally minded poet and career politician won in a landslide. Michael D Higgins topped the polls in every single constituency in the country, earning 55.8% of the first preference votes. As victories go, it could hardly have been more comprehensive.
Whether or not Casey goes full-time with the politicking remains to be seen, but I would be confident that the people of Ireland won’t go down the road of electing candidates who base their campaigns on prejudicial sound bites. We have already seen how that tactic has panned out elsewhere.