Irish presidential candidate sparks controversy with outspoken views on Travellers

A businessman who is vying to become the next Irish president has been criticised after describing the Republic’s recognition of Travellers as members of an ethnic minority as “a load of nonsense”.

Peter Casey sparked controversy after claiming Travellers are simply people camping on someone else’s land.

Irish presidential candidate Peter Casey. Pic by Niall Carson/PA Wire

Irish presidential candidate Peter Casey. Pic by Niall Carson/PA Wire

He is one of six candidates vying for the largely ceremonial office in this month’s election.

Mr Casey said he sympathised with residents living near Traveller camps.

He told an Irish Independent media group political podcast: “Do you think they are sitting here going, ‘this is great for my property value now that I’ve got three dozen caravans down the road’? It is just wrong.

“Somebody needs to sit up and say this is nonsense. Here we are giving them luxurious houses and they’re turning them down because they’ve no stables.”

Incumbent Michael D Higgins is favourite to win the race for the presidency when the country goes to the polls in just over a week’s time.

He told Irish broadcaster RTE that Travellers comprised an ethnic minority which experienced discrimination, adding: “I find these views appalling.”

He said they lived an average of 10 years less than the general population, and young Traveller men were six times more likely to take their own lives.

This is not the first time controversy has ignited over their place in Irish society.

A fire at a halting site in south Dublin in 2015 killed 10 members of the community.

There was an outpouring of sympathy but some attempts to move survivors to another site failed because of opposition from residents.

Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre is a Dublin-based support organisation.

Co-director Martin Collins said Mr Casey should withdraw from the election due to his “ill-informed, insulting and offensive” comments.

“Our president needs to be inclusive of all citizens and I would not have any confidence that he would be inclusive.

“These comments put Mr Casey’s presidential campaign on the same level as a local election where people play the Nimby card to gain votes, as we have seen so often in the past.”

Sinn Fein candidate Liadh Ni Riada said stereotyping of any ethnic group was unacceptable.

“The Travelling community are an integral and historic element of the Irish nation who have faced discrimination and marginalisation at the hands of the state and local authorities for many decades.

“They have been demonised and vilified by elements of the media who see Travellers as a handy scapegoat when discussing social problems,” she said.