Updated Oct 17th 2018, 2:00 PM
PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has described the comments from his election rival Peter Casey about Travellers as “appalling”, while candidate Gavin Duffy has said his comments are “reckless and inflammatory”.
Sean Gallagher told TheJournal.ie’s The Candidate podcast today that he “abhorred” Casey’s comments.
Senator Joan Freeman, meanwhile, said Casey’s statements show he is “out of touch with Ireland” while Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada accused Casey of “lazy, racist stereotyping”.
Casey had said to the Irish Independent’s Floating Voter podcast that Travellers should not be recognised as an ethnic minority because they are “basically people camping in someone else’s land”, and that Travellers are “not paying their fair share of taxes in society”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Higgins said it had been a “very important step” to recognise Traveller ethnicity and that community experiences “so many inequalities” compared to the general population.
He said: “The average lifespan is 10 years less than average. I have spoken to young male Travellers whose suicide rate is six times that of the average population.
Recognising the ethnic status of Travellers was a wonderful opportunity to begin looking at all of the issues of inclusion… all of this important.
Sean Gallagher told The Candidate podcast that there’s a “piece of misunderstanding” in regards to the Travelling community and that Casey had “fallen into” viewing that ethnic group in a negative light.
“It’s about raising consciousness,” he said. “Once you know something, you can’t unknow it. I will never view the Travelling like you would have traditionally, because I now know the challenges they face. I know the work their own leaders do… it’s great to see so many Travellers come through education… it’s not about taking isolated cases to make a sensational point.”
In a statement this morning, Duffy also criticised Casey’s comments, said he was “deeply concerned”, and asked him to withdraw them.
“I think his comments are reckless and inflammatory and have no place in a campaign for election of First Citizen,” he said. “They reach back into another era which I believed we, as a society and a community, have put well behind us.”
Freeman said that she had met various members and representatives of the Traveller community as part of her work.
She said: “Comments like these from Peter Casey are hugely disrespectful, hurtful and frankly show how out of touch he is with this country.”
Ní Riada said in a statement that Travellers have been used as a “handy scapegoat” when discussing social problems and that for anyone seeking public office to make these comments were “unacceptable”.
‘A new low for high office’
Martin Collins of Pavee Point, which represents the Traveller community, called on Casey to step down from the presidential race.
“His comments are not befitting of any person who is a candidate in the election for president of office,” Collins said.
“You’re meant to be a president for all the people, you are meant to be inclusive.”
“This is a desperate measure coming from a desperate man who is doing really really poorly in the polls.
He is ill-informed, ill-advised, his comments are reckless.
The Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) has called for Casey to make an apology for the comments he made, saying they have demonstrated “a new low for high office”.
“These comments were either founded on ignorance at best or in an attempt to harness anti Traveller support for election purposes.
“Travellers have often been scapegoated to canvass electoral support in the run-up to both local and general elections.
“These views are not of an Ireland of today which has embraced equality and diversity and where we have seen fundamental changes including Traveller ethnicity recognition,” ITM Director Bernard Joyce said.
When contenders for high office can casually, callously and openly perpetuate negative mistruths about a community and conflate that with Traveller’s ethnic status, it denigrates both the community and State party’s role in formal recognition- a position which would surely be at odds with a Presidential hopeful.
TheJournal.ie has asked Casey’s campaign if he had any comment to make in response to calls for him to exit the campaign.
A spokesperson sent this response:
Peter is not available for comment today and we won’t be issuing a statement.
Last year, then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny took the “historic” step of recognising Traveller ethnicity in the Dáil. Kenny described it as a “proud day for Ireland”.
With reporting from Adam Daly