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Taoiseach: 'There was an element of anti-Traveller sentiment in the vote'

Varadkar said Michael D Higgins had received a resounding endorsement from the Irish people.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he will not be apologising to presidential candidate Peter Casey. 

He told reporters at Dublin Castle this evening that over the coming days we will hear of lots of different reasons why people voted for Casey.

“If you look at the vote, there was an element there of anti-Traveller sentiment and that is not something I can condone, I just can’t,” he said. 

Minutes after his press conference, there was an awkward exchange between the pair where Varadkar shook Casey’s hand.

“In any election, there will be candidates that you may disagree with,” he said, “but you should always respect their views.”

He said when people register their protest for lots of different reasons, whether it be on the streets or in the ballot box, and if you are in politics, you always have to listen.

Varadkar said he is part of a government which recognised Traveller ethnicity – but he said they didn’t think it ended there. There is lots more to do in terms of education, he said. 

He said we will all have to “reflect” on the outcome of the vote, and what it means.

Sending a message to the Traveller community, the Taoiseach said he wanted them to know that his government respected their culture and heritage.

Speaking earlier today, Casey said he is waiting for an apology from Varadkar in relation to comments he made about urging the public “to send a clear message” to Casey at the ballot box.

Earlier in the campaign, the Taoiseach asked the public to send “a very clear message” to Casey in the presidential election vote by rejecting his deeply “divisive” and “regrettable” views about the Travelling community.

Casey sustained criticism for a series of comments about the Traveller community, across a variety of media appearances.

When asked if he would be apologising to Casey, Varadkar said: “I won’t be doing that.”

He added that he supported President Michael D Higgins, who has won a “resounding victory”. It is important not to lose sight of the actual vote, added Varadkar, stating that Casey only won less than one in every four votes. 

Varadkar laughed at the suggestion that Casey might join Fine Gael, stating that is he thought that was “decidedly unlikely”. 

While anyone is welcome to join Fine Gael,he said they must sign up to the “values of the party”. 

Higgins has received a “resounding endorsement” from the people, said Varadkar, who said it was quite an achievement to poll as the highest candidate in every constituency. 

Despite Fine Gael’s high polling position, Varadkar dismissed the idea that he might call a November election.

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